Urawa Reds are J.League giants and manager Ricardo Rodríguez has the Diamonds glittering again after a stellar debut season in Saitama. What will 2022 hold for them?
Urawa struggled to open the 2021 campaign, winning just one of their first six matches, but once they found their form they were excellent. They leapt up the table and the midseason acquisition of Kasper Junker gave them a true star up front. Soon they were competing among the top teams, eventually finishing sixth, and a dramatic Emperor’s Cup win at the end of the season booked them a place in the AFC Champions League.
David Moberg Karlsson has been added to an already-strong attack, with the former Sparta Prague man giving Urawa an additional edge up top. Elsewhere, Ayumu Ohata provides energy and dynamism after moving from Sagan Tosu. Tomoya Inukai will also be key, as the former Kashima Antlers man offers some much-needed defensive steel.
An exodus of Urawa veterans will undeniably have an impact, as Yuki Abe retires, Tomoaki Makino departs for Vissel Kobe, and Shinzo Koroki’s goalscoring consistency heads up north to Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo.
The defense is diluted with the losses of Ryosuke Yamanaka and Daigo Nishi, who head to Cerezo Osaka and Consadole respectively, while Koya Yuruki will join Makino in Kobe.
Goal for 2022
Urawa haven’t won the league since 2006, but they have conquered Asia twice since then. While the dream in Saitama is always of topping Japanese football, and they’ll be aiming for a top-three finish, their ambitions will not be limited to J1.
AFC Champions League fixtures will add congestion but also provide a platform for Rodríguez’s men to dream big on the continental stage - something that could energize them to fight for the top in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE and collect another domestic trophy after the thrills of last season’s Emperor’s Cup win.
What to watch for
The midseason addition of Junker played a huge role in Urawa’s turnaround last season. After a fast start, he ended up with nine goals in just 21 league matches to drive them up the table and his three Emperor’s Cup tallies were crucial to their triumph in that competition.
With the Dane in the team for the entire year, Urawa can aim even higher. He brings everything that a team could want from a striker - pinpoint finishing, clever movement, excellent distribution and the ability to hold the ball up. Ricardo Rodriguez always makes sure his teams are well organized, but with a full season of Junker up top, Urawa could be a goalscoring machine that lets them challenge across the board for trophies.