Created: Thursday, 27 July 2017 Written by Alan Gibson

 

F.League: The Second Decade

2017-18 Season Preview

by Our Man on the Court – Steve Harris

F.League: The Second Decade

2017-18 Season Preview

by Our Man on the Court – Steve Harris

 

This article was published in JSoccer Magazine issue 24 - you can get your paper copy of the magazine or the full PDF in the magazine section of this site or mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if it's easier, or follow on Twitter (and message) @JSoccerMagazine. Or just send $10 (1000 yen) to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. via Paypal and leave your address :-)   Thank you for your support of JSoccer.com and JSoccer Magazine
Alan Gibson - editor

The Fall of the Nagoya Dynasty

Last season marked the 10th year of the F.League, an anniversary that Shriker Osaka celebrated by becoming the first team ever to wrest the league title away from Nagoya Oceans, the perennial champion up to that point. Nagoya’s monopoly had not been a fluke: the club has been, and continues to be the only fully professional team in Japan’s top flight. The Tokai powerhouse had at one time even been home to Portuguese futsal idol Ricardinho, who now plays for current European champion Movistar Inter and was most recently voted best player in the world.

Nagoya’s dynasty came to a spectacular end last season. This was the season the team was attempting to rejuvenate, first by letting go of Japanese international Kaoru Morioka, who was on verge of turning 37 but still had quite a bit of fuel in his tank, as he would prove after being picked up by eventual league play-off finalist Pescadola Machida. The post-Morioka Oceans were further compromised when Sinoe - a Brazilian striker who was supposed to have filled the hole left by the departing veteran - inexplicably quit the team on the eve of the season. Nagoya then compounded the damage by signing Brazilian defender Daniel Sakai, who turned out to be not quite what the team needed to get back on track.

Shriker Move In

Meanwhile, Shriker Osaka could do no wrong. In the 2015-2016 season two years ago, Brazilian striker Vinicius had already set a league record high for scoring in the wake of the team’s acquisition of compatriot Arthur Oliveira. Then, last season, Osaka’s three-pronged Brazilian strike force was rounded out by the arrival of pivo Tiago Selbach – and this would prove to be the core of an unstoppable scoring machine. The three players hit the back of the net a combined total of 113 times, which accounted for 60% of Osaka’s scoring tally and exceeded the goal total of eight of the remaining 11 teams in the league! In other words, Osaka’s Brazilian trio alone outscored most of the other teams in the F.League!

Osaka’s orgy of scoring took the team to the top of the table shortly after the halfway point in the season. In fact, in a 33-game season, the top spot was claimed by Osaka in the 18th round and never again ceded. The post-season play-off configuration allowed Shriker to wait for the 2nd through 4th place teams to produce a finalist that would make the trip to Osaka for a final play-off for the title. Shriker’s opposition in the final was none other than Pescadola Machida, Kaoru Morioka’s new home and the All Japan Futsal (the “Cup”) defending champion. Machida edged Osaka in the first game of the league final play-off, thus forcing a second winner-takes-all match with Shriker. This proved to be a dramatic finale to the season, with Tiago scoring the winning goal just five seconds from the final buzzer. And thus it was on Mar. 4, 2017, that the F.League finally had its second ever champion as Osaka uncorked the champagne bottles. Osaka rode that momentum into the All Japan Championship, where it vanquished Sumida to take the double for the season.

Nagoya Is Back

Nagoya Oceans were not only denied the two major domestic titles last season (and there should have been a third: the Ocean Cup that was postponed for one year to schedule for the World Cup), but they ignominiously failed to even reach the finals of both the league play-off and the All Japan Futsal Japan Championship. However, as the 2017-2018 F.League season prepares to kick off at Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Jun. 10, one fact is evident: Nagoya is back.

At the end of last season, Nagoya manager Pedro Costa released all three foreign players and a pair of Japanese internationals. The new acquisitions were fewer in number but potentially quite formidable on the pitch. A tireless utility player whose lethally accurate passing routinely splits open defenses, Ryosuke Nishitani is also not shy about launching wicked shots, a tactic that made the difference in more than a few games he played while wearing the colors of Deucao Kobe and Fugador Sumida. Nishitani has been joined at Oceans by a pair of Brazilians with impressive credentials. Rafa comes from the storied Carlos Barbosa club and has further burnished his career with a gold medal earned at the most recent futsal Copa America, held in Argentina in April. While Rafa is a classic power forward, his compatriot Pepita is an ala who has made a name for himself at Corinthians and other major clubs in Brazil, where he has compiled an impressive collection of titles.

Defending Champion Osaka the Other Main Contender

In the pre-season Ocean Cup (the “league cup” that had been postponed from last season), Nagoya swept aside the competition in the four-day knockout tournament to take the title and serve notice that the king is back. The bad news is that new acquisition Pepita already looks to be out for most of this season due to a serious knee injury; the good news is that Pepita’s absence was not felt due to Nishitani and Rafa running amok and Nagoya’s youth corps holding their own throughout the Ocean Cup. (These are all players who have stepped up from Nagoya Oceans Satellite, the club’s B team and Japan regional champion, which is the equivalent of being the division 2 champion – if the F.League had a second division).

So how does defending championship Shriker Osaka look this season? Even after successfully winning the only two domestic titles available last season, manager Kenichiro Kogure cleaned house by moving out his lesser performers and bringing on board some impressive talent. Among the new additions to Osaka this season are Shinobu Aii, who was the top-scoring Japanese player in the league last season when on the roster of Shriker’s Kansai rival Deucao Kobe. Osaka’s attack has been further fortified by the acquisition of former Vasagey Oita pivo Sota Shibano and ala Shota Horigome, coming in from Espadola Hokkaido, both of whom have been previously selected for the national team pool. Though Shriker only managed the bronze medal at the pre-season Ocean Cup, they gave eventual champion Nagoya enough of a scare in the semi-final to presage a season in which these two teams will most likely dominate.

Last Season’s Also-rans…

Honorable mentions from last season goes to Pescadola and Fugador, teams that qualified for the post-season play-offs and achieved finalist status with champion Osaka in the finals of the two major tournaments, respectively. Arguably, Machida plays the most technical and complex futsal of any team in the league and has, as starting goalkeeper, Higor Pires, the only goalkeeper to ever win player-of-the-year honours, and be a best-five selection by the league for four consecutive seasons now. As the team is playing futsal that is attractive and potent, there have been no major changes in personnel. Expect Machida to be one of the teams to beat.

The transfer of Ryosuke Nishitani to Nagoya and the retirement of pivo Hisato Futomi have not been good news, but Fugador is a team that has clawed its way to the top by virtue of a work ethic that maximizes the power of the group over individuals. The result is that there is less reliance on star players and more goals scored by blindingly fast counters, coordinated runs and unselfish assists. Like Nagoya and Machida, Sumida also has an established developmental philosophy that makes for a B team that consistently replenishes the top team with new blood.

The Middle of the Table

Despite the lack of any major stars, Fuchu Athletic has in recent years fought hard enough to earn a place in the post-season play-offs and even demolished Nagoya 6-0 to take the Ocean Cup two years ago. The west Tokyo city of Fuchu has long been a hotbed of futsal activity, with many teams over the years having made a mark in competition at the top level. Unfortunately, the team has made no major acquisitions this season to make up for the loss of Shun Nagashima to Urayasu, and the retirement of long-time striker Goshi Koyama. On the upside, most of the players on the team are experienced and have been playing together long enough to get through the tough matches that count. Among all the talent, Guilherme Kuromoto and Toshinori Tanaka, two of the best goalkeepers in the league, are perhaps the team’s most valuable assets.

The empty trophy case of Bardral Urayasu vividly illustrates the trouble the club has had in living up to its reputation for excellence on the pitch. Capable players, experienced coaching, an extensive developmental system and devoted supporters have all been hallmarks of the Bardral brand, but the team has always had trouble parlaying those strengths into titles. The position of manager has been taken on this year by Kensuke Takahashi, a distinguished product of the club who even spent some time in the top flight of Spain’s national league. Diduda, a tough fixo acquired from Oita will bring his unique combination of tough marking and surgical passing to Urayasu this season, and similar improvements to the team can be expected from new acquisitions Shun Nagashima (Fuchu), Tatsuya Aoyama (Sumida) and Koki Maru (Fuchu Firefox). A measure of success has already been achieved by reaching the final of the pre-season Ocean Cup, although Bardral suffered a one-sided 0-5 defeat at the hands of the “new” Nagoya.

The Other Six Teams

What are we to make of Vasagey Oita, Kyushu’s only F.League franchise and potentially one of the better futsal sides in Japan? This is the club where Japan skipper Kazuhiro Nibuya wears the captain’s arm band, but Oita finished last season in 8th place in the league. Shigero Yoshitake has remained at the helm, but no fewer than 11 of Nibuya’s teammates left the team at the end of last season. Hopefully, one-time top league scorer Kohei Harada (Kobe), journeyman Kazuhiro Yamatsuta (Hamamatsu) and promising defender Kento Tamura (Nagoya) will be among the new players who reverse the sagging fortunes of Oita.

Deucao Kobe defied the pundits by joining the play-off race toward the end of last season and finishing in 7th place, but top scorer Shinobu Aii has moved to Osaka and veteran pivo Kohei Harada is now at Oita. Hanging up his boots at the end of last season and now calling the shots as manager from the bench this season, long-time captain and former international Takuya Suzumura will be trying to build on the synergy and momentum Kobe generated in 2016-2017.

Shonan Bellmare flip-flopped its coaching staff, with Keito Okumura (whose affiliation pre-dates Bellmare’s acquisition of the club) taking the role of manager and Naoki Yokozawa stepping down to the position of coach. The club has seen no major changes in the roster since its 10th-place finish last year, although Shonan did do well to take Osaka to penalties and finish in 4th place in the pre-season Ocean Cup.

Espolada Hokkaido continues to struggle with a self-imposed curse: the club decrees that the team can only use players from Hokkaido, as the northern island is the birthplace of futsal in Japan and a hotbed of talent. The team does indeed play a creative and inventive style one would expect from players who have grown up with the sport, but the best players keep leaving for other teams or simply retiring. Some had thought that the 9th-place finish last season would be justification for a review of the team policy, but there have been almost no major changes to the lineup – and the team this season will be trying to make up for the loss of standouts Shota Horigome (who transferred to Osaka) and Takuma Honda (retired).

Though an 11th-place finish among 12 teams would normally not be cause for celebration, this was Agleymina Hamamatsu’s most successful season to date. Despite the Tokai neighbour of perennial champion Nagoya Oceans having never won more than three games in a given season, they emerged victorious from no fewer than seven matches last season. And this season the team is joined by Japan internationals Yusuke Nakamura and Matias Maedonchi, victims of Nagoya’s post-season housecleaning frenzy. Could the team finish the season at a single-digit place in the table?

Lastly, we have Voscuore Sendai. Still a relative newcomer to the league, Sendai has finished in last place in the last two years after achieving the 11th-place spot in its inaugural season in the F.League. Spanish manager Jose Fernandez, who came on board during the 2015-2016 campaign and is starting his third season with the team, does not have a line-up of players that look very impressive on paper. Last season, the team conceded a record 146 goals, which indicates the need for better organization in defense and perhaps at least one reliable goalkeeper.


 

Hits: 165

J1 Standings

 

. Team Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif.
1 Cerezo 44 13 5 3 43 22 +21 
2 Antlers 43 14 1 5 33 19 +14 
3 Reysol 38 12 2 6 31 21 +10 
4 Marinos 37 11 4 5 27 17 +10 
5 Frontale 36 10 6 4 36 23 +13 
6 Gamba 35 10 5 5 34 20 +14 
7 Jubilo 34 10 4 6 32 20 +12 
8 Reds 30 9 3 9 47 38 +9 
9 Sagan 30 8 6 6 24 23 +1 
10 Vissel 29 9 2 9 24 26 -2 
11 Tokyo 27 7 6 7 26 23 +3 
12 SPulse 22 5 7 8 24 29 -5 
13 Vegalta 22 6 4 10 23 38 -15 
14 Ventforet 19 4 7 9 11 22 -11 
15 Consadole 19 5 4 11 19 31 -12 
16 Ardija 16 4 4 12 19 37 -18 
17 Sanfrecce 14 3 5 12 19 34 -15 
18 Albirex 9 2 3 15 13 42 -29

J2 Standings

. Team Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif.
1 Bellmare 53 16 5 5 31 21 +10
2 Avispa 52 16 4 6 37 20 +17
3 V.Varen 44 13 5 8 33 28 +5
4 Vortis 43 12 7 7 38 24 +14
5 YokoFC 41 12 5 9 36 26 +10
6 Trinita 41 11 8 7 35 29 +6
7 Fagiano 41 11 8 7 31 29 +2
8 Grampus 40 12 4 9 38 35 +3
9 Yamaga 39 11 6 9 37 21 +16
10 JEF Utd. 39 11 6 9 42 37 +5
11 Hollyhock 39 10 9 7 31 30 +1
12 Montedio 38 10 8 8 24 29 -5
13 Verdy 37 10 7 9 37 32 +5
14 Sanga 36 9 9 8 36 32 +4
15 Zelvia 35 9 8 9 33 30 +3
16 EhimeFC 35 10 5 10 32 34 -2
17 FC Gifu 29 7 8 11 36 40 -4
18 Zweigen 29 8 5 13 26 43 -17
19 Roasso 26 7 5 14 28 40 -12
20 Renofa 19 5 4 17 26 38 -12
21 Kamatamare 17 3 8 15 28 43 -15
22 Thespa 14 4 2 20 16 50 -3

J3 Standings

. Team Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif.
1 Blaublitz 37 11 4 2 30 13 +17
2 Kataller 35 10 5 2 22 9 +13
3 Azul Claro 34 10 4 3 40 16 +24
4 TochigiSC 30 8 6 3 18 13 +5
5 Kagoshima 28 9 1 7 23 16 +7
6 Parceiro 28 7 7 3 15 10 +5
7 Giravanz 27 8 3 6 23 16 +7
8 FC Ryukyu 25 6 7 4 21 19 +2
9 Fujieda MyFC 25 7 4 6 21 24 -3
10 Fukushima 20 6 2 9 18 28 -10
11 Sagamihara 19 4 7 6 13 17 -4
12 Tokyo U23 19 5 4 8 17 22 -5
13 Gainare 17 4 5 8 19 30 -11
14 Grulla 15 3 6 8 16 23 -7
15 Gamba U23 13 4 1 12 10 27 -17
16 Cerezo U23 12 2 6 9 18 28 -10
17 YSCC 10 2 4 10 15 28 -13