Yokohama FC are back in the Meiji Yasuda J1 League after a year in the second division. Can they stay up this time around?
Relegation sent the Fulie back to J2 after two seasons in the top flight, but they were not about to spend much time there.
They rode a spectacular year by Koki Ogawa, whose 26 goals were 10 more than the next best in J2, to a comfortable second place finish that sealed their rise back up to the first division.
Goal for 2023
Yokohama FC have spent 13 of the last 15 seasons in the second division, so simply being in J1 is a big deal. As they get ready for 2023, full focus is on staying in Japan’s top division.
When they were relegated the season before last, it was largely their backline that let them down as they had by far the worst defensive record in the league, so the emphasis will be on making sure they are organized and sturdy at the back. Much of that task will fall to the likes of Brazilian center half Gabriel and the leadership of former German youth international Svend Brodersen.
If they can do that, and continue to get production from their attack at the next level, then another season in J1 could be on the cards.
What to watch for
While defense will be the key for the Fulie, all eyes will be up top as Ogawa tries to replicate his form from J2. He was named league MVP for his spectacular 26-goal season as the engine of the Fulie attack.
Now the question will be whether he can do it in the top flight, with the 25-year-old having spent the last three years in J2. If Ogawa makes the transition, and he’s shown all the skills that indicate he can do so, Yokohama FC will have the star that changes matches.
Other than Ogawa, Yokohama will rely in attack on the talented Brazilian duo of Saulo Mineiro (who is returning from an Achilles injury) and talented 20-year-old Marcelo Ryan, as well as Mizuki Arai, who spent part of 2022 in Portugal with Gil Vicente.
The talent is there, but there are plenty of question marks about whether this group can produce at the highest level of the Japanese game. Doing so could be the difference between relegation and survival come Matchweek 34.