Avispa Fukuoka season preview: Focus up front as Fukuoka dream of climb

Avispa Fukuoka season preview: Focus up front as Fukuoka dream of climb

Avispa Fukuoka returned to the Meiji Yasuda J1 League in 2021 and they’ve had two solid seasons back among Japan’s best. Can they keep it going in 2023?

Last season

Avispa slid back from eighth place in 2021 to 14th last season, battling to stay out of the drop zone. The goal scoring woes that dated back to the previous year reared its ugly head again and gave Avi serious problems, but they had a good stretch in the middle part of the season and finished with three wins and a draw in their final five matches to secure safety.

Add in a run to the J.League YBC Levain Cup semi-finals, their deepest cup run ever, and the season had plenty of bright spots despite some tenuous moments.

Goal for 2023

Fukuoka are still focused on staying afloat in J1, but they’ll be hoping that 2023 looks more like 2021 than 2022. Getting cleanly into the midtable is very much in play and if they can pair that with a cup run then there would be celebrations at Avispa, where they’ve been disciplined in their slow growth and can always rely on a solid defense backed by Masaaki Murakami in goal.

What to watch for

The key for Avispa will be finding a way to score. Their 29 goals were the fewest in the league last season and that they were able to overcome that to stay up was a feat. This season, they don’t want to have to climb that hill again so they signed Ryoga Sato, who scored 13 goals in each of the last two J2 campaigns at Tokyo Verdy and is only 23 years old.

The hope is that Sato can give Fukuoka the goal scoring they have been lacking and, along with Yuya Yamagishi, John Mary and Lukian, combine to fire the club into the middle of the league. If so, they’ll also have a chance to turn more attention to the cups and maybe even bring home their first trophy since winning the JFL in 1995.