2024 J.League season preview: FC Machida Zelvia ready to fight in J1 debut

2024 J.League season preview: FC Machida Zelvia ready to fight in J1 debut

For the first time in FC Machida Zelvia history, they are playing in the top flight. How does this ambitious club look heading into their Meiji Yasuda J1 League debut?

2023 review

Last season was Zelvia’s eighth straight in the second division and with the backing of well-resourced ownership, they had their sights set on promotion. They did just that, winning J2 by an impressive 12 points.

Zelvia scored the most goals in the league, led by Erik’s 18 tallies. They also had the third-best defense in the league, taking them into the top flight with a season to remember at Machida GION Stadium.

Key loss

William Popp - Popp was the backstop to Machida's excellent defense last season, but he’s departed for Yokohama F·Marinos. The leap to the top flight is tough for any club, but having a goalkeeper you trust makes it a lot easier. Losing Popp could be a blow to Zelvia.

Key addition

Kosei Tani - Normally, losing Popp would be an outright negative for any club, let alone a newly promoted one, but Machida may have somehow managed to upgrade at the goalkeeper position by bringing Tani in.

The former Gamba Osaka product proved himself at a very young age on loan at Shonan Bellmare and after a short stint at Belgium’s Dender, he’s back in Japan by joining Zelvia on loan.

Tani is spectacularly talented, proven in J1 and still only 23 years old. He could even be Japan’s starting goalkeeper before long if he can consistently demonstrate his quality at the top level.

Goal for 2024

The goal for every promoted club is just to stay in the top flight. Especially for a team that has never been in J1 before, that is a good base line.

Things seem different for Zelvia, though. There’s no reason this ambitious team couldn’t jump all the way into the top half of the table — and beyond.

After losing so few players from last year’s team, and adding the likes of South Korea national teamer Na Sang-ho, veteran defender Gen Shoji, and proven J1 talent Keiya Sento, this is a team setting their sights much higher.

This is a team with a deep core and bundles of attacking talent, including Australia national team striker Mitchell Duke, that should see them be a handful for top-flight opposition.

Whether they can thrive in J1 is another story, but Zelvia are most certainly built to survive and then some.