There is a new team atop the Meiji Yasuda J1 League table but it's a familiar sight to J.League fans.
Ayase Ueda’s 71st minute goal delivered a 1-0 win for Kashima Antlers over Avispa Fukuoka and thrust the eight-time champions into first place.
Ueda has been spectacular all season and his match-winner put him all alone atop the league’s goal scoring charts. He now has five goals on the season and his outstanding play up top is a primary reason Kashima also find themselves in first.
This goal came out of nothing, as Kashima struggled to break down a good Avispa defense. Ueda received a ball 20 yards out and turned towards goal with an Avispa backline waiting for him. Instead of trying to beat those defenders, he simply fired quickly from distance, finding the back of the net and earning Kashima all three points.
Kashima’s win alone would not have put them atop the table. They also needed Kawasaki Frontale to drop points and the defending champions did just that in a 1-1 draw at Júbilo Iwata.
Kashima now sit on 18 points, one ahead of Frontale. They are not the only teams in the title race, though, with Kashiwa Reysol on 16 points and Yokohama F·Marinos on 15 after a loss in Hiroshima on Matchweek 7. One advantage Kashima and Reysol have is they have only played seven matches to Frontale and Marinos’ nine, giving them two games in hand.
It’s still early, but the defending champions have lost their place atop the table and Kashima were quick to snatch it up. We have ourselves the makings of a tantalizing title race that could go down to the wire with several teams battling for J1 supremacy.