Sporting a lime green blazer reminiscent of a maitre'd at Don De Los Santos' Zim Zam Room, Rui Ramos led the men in green into their first battle of the 2007 campaign. This years debut squad opened with some surprises that hovered between disaster and brilliance. Let's dive in to Rui 2.0........J1 or Bust!
MF Diego-Ze Luis-Nanami-Ono
Bench Yoshihara, Sato, Tomisawa, Nagai, Inoue
Walking around the stadium before the match, you could see some familiar faces in matching black suits. Masaki Saito was working the Kappa booth, Eugene Killoran was greeting people at the gate with Nozomi Hiroyama, Kazuki Hiramoto was.............wait, why was Kazuki Hiramoto out among the fans? I'm honestly not sure but it seems like some things never change. rui went with a shocking choice at forward in Yuzo "Tokyo Tower" Funakoshi. Another surprise was the absence of preseason starter Koijiro Kaimoto. In his place was rookie Kensuke Fukuda.
Early on it was clear that Hulk wanted to impress in his Verdy debut. Playing like a man possessed, the stout Brazilian forward dribbled down the side and put a pinpoint pass in the box to the looming Funakoshi. 57 seconds into the season and Funakoshi scores. I don't even think Funakoshi predicted that he would get the first goal of the season. Unfortunately for Thespa, that would be as close as they would get. After 45 minutes of wrestling and grappling, the team went into locker room up 1-0.
The second half saw a more determined Verdy side push up more on the attack. 8 minutes in Hulk was awarded a free kick about 35 yards out. He backed up, took a running start and put a fabulous rocket into the back corner of the net for Verdy's second goal. This seemed to cause panic in the Gunma side as Thespa's coach emptied his bench in atttempts to get some points back.
Hulk would be the catalyst for the third goal as he put a corner kick right at the feet of a charging Yukio Tsuchiya. Tsuchiya did a nice stop turn and put the goal past the feet of Thespa keeper Seiji Honda. Wait, there's more.........goal number 4 came after Ramos decided to pull Funakoshi, Nanami, and Ono for the ancient Hideki Nagai, the underrated Yusuke Sato, and the youthful Taira Inoue. Nagai was the point man on goal four as he took a pass to the box and sent a nice low pass right at the feet of the lumbering Diego. Goal number 4 and another awful celebration. Finally, Taira Inoue would contribute as well as he took a ball on the break, slowed down for a hustling Hulk and dished off........Hulk stutter stepped, stopped, let the defender run by, reversed and put an easy shot past the hapless Honda. The destruction was complete...........5-0 Verdy.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
1. Hulkamania- Hulk played at a different level than everyone else on the field. He was strong on his runs, he was fast, and most importantly HE WAS SMART. Hulk set up his teammates a bunch of times and was thinking much faster than guys like Ono, Diego, and Ze Luis. Player of the match. I was impressed with his unselfishness and the two goals were incredible.
2. New blood- After Kensuke Fukuda settled down, he really was impressive as the branch in the back. In the second half, his long passes helped to set up many scoring opportunities and a rocket shot from distance was a crossbar away from making the final result 6-0. Taira Inoue showed savvy decision making and unselfishness in dumping it off to a teammate in better position. 99 times out of 100, the average J League striker tries to bull their way into the box, either overshooting or falling down, and Inoue didn't.
3. The defense- Thespa only had a few shots that were dangerous, and Takagi made great saves on all of them. The T-triange of Takagi, Tsuchiya, and Togawa pretty much shut down Thespa. Rarely did that happen last year. It's starting to look like Tsuchiya was the most important pickup for Verdy this season.
4. Thespa supporters-Great turnout and arguably a louder element that the Tokyo faithful.
Hard to find anything truly bad about a 5-0 drubbing, but I can!
1. The wing play- Ono and Diego really were non-factors in today's game and made a ton of turnovers. Neither one of these guys has great speed, which is the one thing Verdy lacks on offense. Diego wanted to power through people on everything, whether it was passing to teammates, stealing the ball, or dribbling. Neither player had good position all day. Drives which could have provide results usually died at the feet of these two. And neither look to be in game shape. I think Hiroyama would be a better choice on the wing in the short term until either shows the capacity and the desire to play and get in shape.
2. Thespa Kusatsu- They were able to hang around for a half but it's gonna be a long season for the squad. There is no way they can survive with an attack led by Koji Maatsura.
1. The Jacket- Expect to see the Rui Ramos leisure suit again after the 5 goal performance. Did I mention that it was lime green?
2. Yuzo Funakoshi- Good on ya for notching the first goal, actually a good effort and shot. Teh other 70+ minutes were less impressive. Downright painful to watch actually. I think the big man can give a good 45 minutes tops, maybe less.
Around the League
The most impressive performance in J2 arguably was not turned in by Verdy but by Avispa Fukuoka. Fukuoka went on the road to Sagan Tosu and dismantled them 5-0.
Montedio also ventured to Mito and won 1-0
Next up is a road trip to Ehime on March 11th. I will watch the ticker!