Sunday, June 13, 2010

Kataller Toyama 0 at Tokyo Verdy 1 - J League Division 2 - June 12, 2010



With the World Cup underway, Japan's J League is taking a 1-month break. This weekend saw the last action until mid-July with a round of games in the second division. One of these matches was held at Komazawa Stadium in southern Tokyo. I used to play road hockey right next to it and had always wanted to see a game there, so couldn't pass up the chance to catch Tokyo Verdy and Kataller Toyama fight it out Saturday afternoon.

Komazawa Stadium


Built in 1964 for the Olympics, Komazawa Stadium is located in Komazawa Park and is one of several sports facilities in the area. The nearest station is Komazawa Daigaku on the Denentoshi line which is 3 stops south of Shibuya station. Avoid the express train though as it passes this station. From the station it is a nice 10-minute walk that takes you through the park. Next to the stadium is a tall structure that is the Olympic control tower, shown above.


The stadium is unique in that there are 6 triangular walls that line one side as you can see above. These provide shade in the upper rows of those sections, but the rest of the stadium is open to the elements. The seating area slopes down at both ends to create a wave-like feeling. As it also hosted track and field events, it is not a soccer-only facility and consequently the seats are some distance away from the pitch, as shown below.


Komazawa is no longer used as a regular home ground for a professional team so the amenities are lacking. The outdoor concourse is small and there is little in the way of food or drink choices inside. The seats themselves are just stools with no back and not that comfortable.

Half the stadium was closed as there were only 3,300 people to fill the 22,000 seats, so I didn't get to do much walking around. Although it is nearly 50 years old, it has held up well and I'm glad I had the opportunity to see a game in this historic venue.

The Teams

Tokyo Verdy was formed in 1969 as a company club for Yomiuri Shimbun, the same firm who owns the Tokyo Giants. Known as Yomiuri F.C. for the first 24 years of their existence, the club benefited from the deep pockets of the owners and won several titles in the 1980s, including the Asian Club Championship in 1988 when their opponent forfeited. When the J League started play in 1993, the team became known as Verdy Kawasaki and continued their success, taking the first two league titles as well as the first two League Cups and enjoying the presence of national team stars such as Kazuyoshi Miura and Ruy Ramos.

Fortunately, this dominance would not last. Yomiuri tried to replicate the national following of its baseball team, but with local teams in more areas and the league gradually losing popularity, the plan failed and the club were unable to sign new talent to replace their aging veterans. Verdy finished mid-table for the rest of the decade and eventually moved back to Tokyo, changing their name to Tokyo Verdy. Success eluded them here as well and they were relegated to J2 in 2005. Although they returned to the top division in 2008, they finished 17th and were sent back down for last season.

This year they had 4 wins and 5 draws in 15 games which was only good enough for 15th in the 19-team league. With 15 goals for and only 14 against though, it seemed like they were a better team than their record indicated.

On the other hand, Kataller Toyama has only been around for two seasons, joining J2 last year and finishing 13th. This season they are just as bad, with only 4 wins and a draw from their 15 matches, suffering a league-worst 30 goals against.

The Game

Kosei Shibasaki sends one deep

Based on the above stats, I figured a low-scoring game was in order and for a change, I was right. It was immediately clear that Toyama were not strong on the backline. Tokyo attacked early and were rewarded when the Toyama defence failed to clear the area in the 12th minute. Midfielder Takuma Abe dribbled past two defenders and chipped the ball over a lunging Yuji Nakagawa (shown below) for his first goal of the season. The rest of the half was rather uneventful as Toyama pressed and managed 6 corners but only a single weak shot on net.


In the second half, Tokyo spent the majority of time in possession but couldn't add to their lead. But with Toyama unable to generate any consistent pressure, it didn't seem like a problem. The Verdy defense was solid and resisted any Toyama attempt, such as below heading another corner away. It wasn't until late in the game that Kataller had a brilliant chance, but the shot was parried away by keeper Yoichi Doi, himself a one-time member of the national team (that's him below in blue).


The game ended 1-0 and was a rather lackluster affair. Tokyo were clearly superior; Toyama didn't look like a professional side in my opinion. With the win, Verdy moved up to 10th in the league while Toyama will continue to languish near the bottom. Not a memorable match but I was able to cross another sports venue off the list (298 and counting).

Notes

Tokyo Verdy averaged nearly 15,000 fans last season playing in J1, but this year they are down to 5,500 as they struggle in the second division. Talk about fair weather fans. Of course, given the quality of the match I saw, it's difficult to blame them.

Next Up

Not much on the calendar until I head back to the US for a final baseball trip in July. I will check out one day of industrial league baseball next week when the Tokyo tournament holds its second-round games, but other than that, it will be lots of soccer on TV.

Best,

Sean

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