Albirex Niigata’s return to the Meiji Yasuda J1 League was a smashing success in 2023. What will 2024 have in store for them?
Most teams spend their first season after promotion just trying to stay afloat, but not these Swans. They went undefeated in their first four matches to start the season strong and did not lose in their last nine contests to finish strong. The result was 10th place in the table and a message to the rest of J1 that they were not content to just survive.
Making Albi’s strong finish all the more remarkable is they lost Ryotaro Ito in the summer to Sint-Truiden in Belgium, but they didn’t stumble without their star. They played great, leaning on a top-notch defense that allowed only six goals in their nine-match unbeaten streak to close the campaign.
Shunsuke Mito - The midfielder established himself as one of Japan’s brightest young midfielders last season. He looked just as good in J1 as he did the previous year in J2, an astounding accomplishment for a 21-year-old.
Sparta Rotterdam in Netherlands saw Mito’s undeniable talent too and brought him over in the winter so Niigata will have to find a new man in the middle.
Yuji Ono - The departures of their young stars left Albirex in need of attacking talent and they most definitely found it.
Niigata got a first-hand look at how impactful Ono can be when he scored in each of their matches against Sagan Tosu last season. Those were two of the nine goals Ono scored in 2023 and the hope is he can bring that type of clinical play up front to a team that could use that reliability.
Goal for 2024
Swimming back to midtable.
Albirex made their mark with a 10th-place finish last season, but that was in an 18-team league. With 20 clubs in J1 for 2024, a 10th-place finish once again would be a smashing success - particularly given the loss of such highly-valued young talent in 2023.
Manager Rikizo Matsuhashi has laid a great foundation in Niigata with steady progress the name of the game after a promotion and successful first season back in J1.
If his team can follow that act up with the same finishing position or better, it will be another campaign that the fans can be proud of.