2024 J.League season preview: Yokohama F·Marinos on the hunt to reclaim crown

2024 J.League season preview: Yokohama F·Marinos on the hunt to reclaim crown

Yokohama F·Marinos are J.League giants, having won the top flight on four occasions. Last year they entered the season with a target on their backs as defending champs and finished as runners-up. Will 2024 mark a return back to the summit?

2023 review

Marinos spent seven weeks on top of the table last season, and were in the top two from Matchweek 15 on, but a late season loss to eventual champions Vissel Kobe and dropped points in their last two matches dashed their dreams of a repeat.

The Tricolor featured the league’s best attack, led by J1 joint Top Scorer Anderson Lopes, who scored 22 goals. They made a deep run in the J.League YBC Levain Cup, reaching the semi-finals, and took care of business in the AFC Champions League, where they are now in the quarter-finals.

Manager Kevin Muscat left at the end of 2023, but Aussie compatriot Harry Kewell will take charge with a squad that has tons of talent and a solidified spine.

Key loss

Ryotaro Tsunoda - The center back had to deal with injuries last year but when healthy was among the best in the league in 2023.

Tsunoda’s excellent play caught the attention of European clubs and now he’s playing for KV Kortrijk in Belgium, leaving Marinos to fill his place in the back.

With a new manager in Kewell, it isn't totally clear how Marinos will approach the construction of their backline, but doing so without Tsunoda as an option adds a layer of complexity.

Key addition

William Popp - The departure of Yokhei Takaoka to Vancouver Whitecaps prior to the 2023 season left Marinos with a challenge in goal and a one-season loan of Jun Ichimori from Gamba Osaka was not a long-term solution. Now, the Tricolor are hoping that Popp will be just what they need.

The 29-year-old was a bit of a late bloomer, not really getting his chance to start regularly until 2020 with Fagiano Okayama. Half a season with Oita Trinita followed before a phenomenal spell with FC Machida Zelvia, helping them get promoted to J1 last year.

Now Popp is making the leap from J2 to one of the top teams in the first division. It’s quite the jump in profile and expectations, but Marinos believe that he’s rounding into one of Japan’s best goalkeepers and will be a fixture between the sticks for years to come.

Goal for 2024

Challenge for every trophy.

For most teams, competing for the title is a lofty enough goal, but this is Yokohama F·Marinos; they don’t just envision themselves challenging for the summit, they expect to be standing alone at the top.

In addition to domestic obligations, Yokohama have aims of being crowned champions of Asia. They are already into the AFC Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in club history and they intend to continue their continental run all the way through to May’s final.

Considering their talent and experience, they have every reason to dream.

Takuma Nishimura has moved on loan to Swiss side Servette, but the attack is still formidable with the Brazilian trio of Anderson Lopes, Élber, and Yan Matheus back to lead the line.

The midfield is equally stacked. 20-year-old Riku Yamane is one of Japan's brightest young stars, Kota Watanabe and Takuya Kida provide balance and steel in the center of the park, and Nam Tae-hee has joined the fray. The long-time South Korean international offers a creative spark in attacking midfield and should be a welcome addition in Yokohama.

With all that talent, there’s no reason Marinos can’t compete for every trophy, which puts a lot of pressure on new manager Harry Kewell. Expectations at Nissan Stadium are high and he will need to have the Tricolor flying right from the start to challenge on all fronts.