For years, Kawasaki Frontale were the class of the J.League.
Four J1 titles in six years were won in Kawasaki, on top of a mighty domestic cup haul, but that run of dominance quite clearly came to an end last season with an eighth-place finish.
Let's reflect on 2023 and look forward to what 2024 might hold for Kawasaki.
Frontale were never higher than seventh in the table last season. All those years of their best players leaving for Europe finally caught up with them as they struggled to replace departing talent and find their footing en route to a mid-table finish.
Nevertheless, despite their difficulties in the league, Frontale delivered an Emperor’s Cup run for the ages with a dramatic penalty kick shootout in the final, winning Japan’s oldest competition for the second time in club history.
Miki Yamane - The right back was a crucial part of Frontale’s success over the years, winning trophies galore in Kawasaki and being named to the J.League Best Eleven on three occasions. He was responsible defensively, creative going forward, and brought the type of calm leadership that made Frontale one of the country’s elite.
So many of Frontale’s title-winning core have departed in recent years and Yamane is the latest after he moved to LA Galaxy in the USA this winter.
Erison - One of Frontale’s big issues last season was the lack of a go-to center forward. Leandro Damião, who won 2021 J.League MVP honors, struggled with injuries all season and never really made his way back. He has now gone back to Brazil, where he will play for Coritiba.
Knowing they had to find their next star striker this winter, Frontale went back to Brazil by tapping Erison. Just 24 years old, Erison is just entering his prime years and has already demonstrated some impressive play at several of Brazil’s top clubs between Botafogo and São Paulo.
If the squad can gel with him at the point of the attack, Kawasaki may once again have a goal machine in their ranks.
Goal for 2024
After a down year, Kawasaki must aim to reenter the J1 elite.
Simply improving from last season’s eighth-place finish will not do at a club where manager Toru Oniki has built such high standards. Frontale fans have gotten used to competing for titles and there’s no reason they can’t do that in 2024 with this squad fully healthy.
Not only did Kawasaki ink Erison to lead the line, but they signed compatriots Zé Ricardo and Patrick Verhon to aid in the defensive and attacking midfield respectively.
The biggest signing in the center of the pitch, however, might be Yuki Yamamoto - a proven excellent passer in J1 for Gamba Osaka and the type of player you can build a midfield around.
Adding these ingredients to a Frontale team that still has proven veteran quality in the likes of Akihiro Ienaga and Yasuto Wakizaka, as well as the dynamic attacking potential of Marcinho and Bafétimbi Gomis, has the signs of something formidable.
Simply put, this squad is talented and deep; they were probably a better attacking side than their record indicated last season and the defense should improve with better injury luck.
Add in the managerial wizardry of Oniki and you have a team that can challenge for the title just like they used to - provided they gel as a unit and have injury luck on their side.