Avispa Fukuoka and Tokushima Vortis were promoted from the MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE after last season, but they haven’t looked like new teams overwhelmed by the top flight. Fukuoka reached as high as fifth in the table, while Vortis have over a point per match, and both are doing it thanks to strong play through the middle from their team’s main leaders.
Fukuoka have been led by their solid defense and, despite being a central midfielder by trade, you can’t talk about the Avispa defense without mentioning Hiroyuki Mae. He is tied for third in the league in both tackles and interceptions, showcasing his physical prowess as a defender and also his ability to expertly read the game. But Hiroyuki Mae isn’t just defensively solid; he is also the team's top passer and leader in throughballs.
In Tokushima, the center of the pitch is manned by Ken Iwao, whose passing makes his team tick. Iwao leads Vortis in both passes and last passes, contributing both in the center of the park and also in the final third. An accomplished two-way player, he has also been an impact player defensively, placing second on the team in tackles.
Mae and Iwao are both contributing with their passing and defense, but they are also making an impact with their work rate, as they both lead their respective sides in distance covered per match. They run, they pass, they defend - these two captains do it all.
(Text and data provided by Data Stadium, Inc.)