2024 J.League season preview: New era arrives for FC Tokyo

2024 J.League season preview: New era arrives for FC Tokyo

FC Tokyo have been the capital's lone top-flight club for years, but that changes this season.

There’s competition in the big city now and the blue and red side of town is up for the challenge.

Let's dig in to what 2024 might hold, but first we'll start with last season.

2023 review

FC Tokyo unveiled their new visual identity during the campaign, which was perhaps a fitting metaphor for a team that underwent quite the in-season transformation on the pitch as well.

Though they started the season fast, taking points from four of their first five matches, the much-beloved Albert Puig ultimately stepped down after 17 games and Peter Cklamovski came in as the new boss in the summer.

FC Tokyo ended up finishing 11th and never looked much like escaping the middle of the pack, but they were in many ways two separate teams throughout the season depending on where they were playing.

FCT regularly took care of business at home, picking up nearly two points per game, but they scored only 11 goals and won just three of 17 matches away from Tokyo.

They were also a team that relied on the production of a familiar cast of characters — none more than Diego Oliveira, who led the way with 15 goals. That mark was fourth-best in J1 and accounted for an astounding 35.7% of the league goals that the club scored all season.

Key loss

Ryoma Watanabe - FC Tokyo need production beyond Oliveira this season and the task could get much harder with Watanbe headed to Urawa Reds.

The reigning J1 Goal of the Year winner tallied four times and added three assists last season, which sounds even worse to lose when you realize he was tied for second in both categories for FC Tokyo last season.

Yes, that means that there were a lot of smaller contributions spread throughout the FC Tokyo squad, but it also means there is a dearth of reliable attacking options in the team.

Key addition

Ryotaro Araki - Among a slew of potentially impactful signings this winter who should help fill the void is Araki, who arrives on loan from Kashima Antlers. The 22-year-old was one of Japan’s top young players and looked poised to be a breakout star in Ibaraki, but injuries over the last two seasons slowed his rise.

Despite being sidelined, Araki amassed 22 goals for Kashima and anyone who has watched him knows he can be a creative force at his best. If he’s fit, watch out because FC Tokyo have a potential star on their hands and one that can more than match Watanabe's lost production, albeit from a slightly different position.

Goal for 2024

A top-half finish has to be the goal, minimum. This team should be aiming for much higher, though.

The midseason change to Cklamovski meant last season was always going to be a difficult ride, but expectations should be much higher after a full preseason and a retooled squad.

Big names will be expected to contribute meaningfully for the capital club. Keita Endo proved his quality at Yokohama F·Marinos before spending the last three years in Germany, while Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa is a terrific, well-rounded attacker.

Combined with Araki, that is a lot of attacking talent joining the team in the right places to give Diego Oliveira some help.

Nevertheless, there are still question marks - not the least of which is how much the youthful energy down the spine of the team will hold up.

From teenager Kota Tawaratsumida flying across the pitch to 20-year-old Kuryu Matsuki leading the midfield to 21-year-old Taishi Brandon Nozawa between the sticks, the capital club will have a ton of young talent in regular roles and logging serious minutes in 2024.

That could make them the most exciting team in the league if things go well. It could also mean some growing pains if things don't gel at the beginning.

But one thing is for sure: FC Tokyo are going into a bold new era with a bold brand of football and an intriguing mixture of next-gen stars and veteran favorites.

That could be the right blend for success, or it could be more of the struggles of last season, but it will definitely be interesting to watch unfold.