Kyoto Sanga returned to the Meiji Yasuda J1 in 2022 and barely survived to see another season in the top flight. Some big changes are on the horizon as they aim for a stronger sophomore campaign, but will it be enough?
Kyoto Sanga started the season decently, spending most of the first 20 matchweeks in the top 10 of the table. Veteran striker Peter Utaka led the way, challenging for Top Scorer honors, while the defense held firm at the next level.
The attacking side of the equation fell off during the second half of the campaign, however, with Kyoto Sanga mustering only 30 goals in 34 matches as they won just two of their last 15 contests. That sunk them to 16th place, which put them in the promotion-relegation play-off, which they drew against Roasso Kumamoto, 1-1, to stay in the top flight.
Goal for 2023
The club did just enough to stay in J1 League last season and the goal will be to survive with much greater ease in 2023.
To that end, Kyoto Sanga have overhauled the squad quite a bit, allowing Utaka to leave and replacing him with another veteran in Jean Patric from Gamba Osaka. They’ve also added Kosuke Kinoshita and Kazunari Ichimi to bolster the frontline, with Brazilian Alan Carius aiming to play a role as their creative spark just behind.
Warner Hahn has joined as a new goalkeeper, while Daiki Kaneko from Urawa Reds will likely help man the midfield.
With all those changes, Kyoto Sanga clearly have taken aim at shoring up areas of need to avoid a relegation fight. The top half of the table is an ambitious aim, especially with goals such a problem last season, but this busy winter could be what gets them there if the new talent coalesces, stays healthy, and gets hot.
What to watch for
Can this team gel more consistently in attack? When they were good last season, Kyoto played some of the most attractive stuff in J1 League, passing out of the back and scoring goals like the one below.
But those moments were, in truth, few and far between as a fast start was the only thing that saved Kyoto Sanga from certain relegation.
Manager Cho Kwi-jae has a big job on his hands with so many new players, but will hope that talented youngsters like Sota Kawasaki and talented regulars like Shohei Takeda can make the leap and take on a bigger, more active role in the team.
If they can, and the new pieces gel early on, Sanga could see themselves avoid a sophomore slump and establish themselves as part of the main J1 League pack.