This year, again as a second division club supporters, the fans might have been resigned to a period of transition, and instead… the team gets completely renewed. The name is changed from Kyoto Purple Sanga to Kyoto Sanga FC, and the club signs those players they would have needed last season: besides a few promising youngsters, Japan NT’s former captain Ryuzo Morioka (from Shimizu S-Pulse), the super-veteran Yutaka Akita (another former NT player, 36yo, from Nagoya Grampus), Kazuki Kuranuki (until last season captain at Ventforet Kofu) and two more Japanese players with a decent pedigree in J1: Yasumasa Nishino (from Jubilo Iwata) and Taka’aki Tokushige (on loan, from Cerezo Osaka). To complete an impressive campaign the defense was reinforced by the huge Brazilian Tiago (from Figuerense).
However, the biggest surprise for the fans was that Sanga was able to keep in Kyoto their best players: the two Brazilian forwards Paulinho, and Andre’; key-players such as Daisuke Saito and Kazuki Teshima, and the young guns Daishi Kato, Daigo Watanabe and Hiroki Nakayama (recently a U-22 NT member). Most of the players who did well two years ago in J2 have been kept, including those such as Daisuke Hoshi, Kenichiro Meta and Yutaka Tahara who failed to impress in J1.
Among the players who have left the club are Takenori Hayashi (another disappointment from last season, on loan to Jubilo Iwata), Arata Kodama (to Shimizu) and Makoto Kakuda (back to Nagoya). Alemao, who had a great season at Yokohama FC, was sent back to Brazil, while veteran Kazuhiro Suzuki has moved to Mito Hollyhock, and Teruaki Kurobe, after being parked on loan in two different J1 clubs for the last two season, has finally been sold for good to Chiba Jef United. Recent fans might not blink at these two latter transfers; however, these were two of the ‘heroes’ who contributed to Kyoto’s only title, the Emperor Cup of 2002.
Considering the usually not-so-competitive level of J2, the reinforcements, and the pre-season games (Kyoto defeated twice Shimizu S-Pulse, and also Korea’s Champions Suwon!), Sanga should be considered without a doubt a candidate for promotion. However, a few factors have to be kept into consideration. To begin with, Coach Naohiko Minobe, who was in charge for the last part of last season, could not win a single game. He is a relatively inexperienced coach, thus it is to see how he could he manage eventual problems on the field and in the locker room. The other question mark regards Sanga attack’s reliability: while Paulinho and Andre’ have the potential to be superstars of the tournament, the other forwards have to prove their value, and in a league where each team plays 48 games, only two strikers might not be enough to guarantee a continuous delivery of goals. However, overall, Kyoto Sanga FC seems ready to be true to its emblem, a phoenix, and for the fourth time resuscitate from its own ashes to make it to the league that matters: J1.
Probable Starting 11:
Watanabe (Mikami), Tiago, Teshima (Akita), Morioka
Saito, Nakayama, Kuranuki, Mio (Kato)