Kyoto Sanga F.C. Season Preview: Can historic Sanga shine in top flight return?

Kyoto Sanga F.C. Season Preview: Can historic Sanga shine in top flight return?

Kyoto Sanga F.C. are the oldest club in the MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE and will celebrate their 100th year with their return to the top flight. This historic side haven’t been in J1 since 2010, but they are ready to make their mark at the highest level yet again.

Last season

Sanga were almost promoted back into the first division in 2012 and 2013, finishing in third place both seasons, but they hadn’t come close since. In fact, they narrowly avoided the drop to J3 in 2018. After a pair of eighth place finishes in 2019 and 2020, they were not exactly favorites for promotion entering 2021, but a 15-match unbeaten streak that began in April and lasted until July thrust them into the top two. Powered by a league-best defense, Sanga challenged for the title before taking a well-deserved second place and promotion spot.

Key arrivals

There’s no doubt that Sanga are strong at the back so their focus has been strengthening the attack. Ryogo Yamasaki joins from Nagoya Grampus, giving them an experienced and proven top flight forward. Yuta Toyokawa also comes over from Cerezo Osaka, bringing not only a proven J1 track record, but European experience.

Key departures

No Sanga player played in more games last season than Jordy Buijs, but he is staying in J2 after joining Fagiano Okayama so that’s a massive leadership figure Sanga will have to replace in defense. Keisuke Shimizu was also a dependable back up goalkeeper who stepped in for nine crucial matches last season, but he is off to Cerezo.

Goal for 2022

The goal for any newly promoted team is just to stay up and that will be the case for Sanga — not that they are not capable of more, or won’t dream of a mid-table finish and a deep cup run. Their defense makes those dreams a potential reality, but cementing themselves in the top flight after such a long absence is a challenge and will be the top priority.

What to watch for

The ageless wonder Peter Utaka is still at the club after scoring 21 goals a year ago, as is Takumi Miyayoshi, who scored 10. With some help from Yamasaki and Toyokawa up front, Sanga could have an interesting attack that can hurt teams from several places. They have a depth of options that they did not have a year ago. If Buijs’ dependability is adequately replaced, there’s no reason to think their defense will not be up to the task either thanks to the return of excellent right back Kosuke Shirai and 22-year-old phenom Tomoya Wakahara in goal, who missed the tail end of last season.

The question for Sanga will be their midfield. If their J2 play was any indication, they’ll support the back line adequately, but they’re going to need some two-way play from that line. The model for Sanga may well be Avispa Fukuoka, who were promoted into J1 last season after a J2-best defense and got better midfield play to adjust to the top flight. Fukuoka surged to the top half of the table in the top flight thanks to that defense and midfield, and Sanga have more firepower up front than Fukuoka had. If the Sanga midfield improves, they could be similarly dangerous in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE.