We are six games into the season, far too early to be handing out any awards, I realise that. But there have been some stand out performers so far in 2013. I’ve gone for a couple of obvious ones, but for the last three I’ve tried to highlight players from some of the “less fashionable” teams.
Popo – Vissel Kobe
A lot of the talk coming out Kobe during pre-season was that the team needed to get younger, and after their relegation from J1 last year it seemed like the right approach to take. After all, the club brought back young forward Koki Arita from Ehime and have Keijiro Ogawa to call upon. However it has been the veteran Popo, back for his second spell in the port city, who has been the catalyst for Vissel’s excellent start. A return of four goals from the opening six games has confounded those, myself included, who thought he would be peripheral for Ryo Adachi’s men. And apparently these days he doesn’t do tap-ins as 3 of his goals have been from 20+ yards out, including his spectacular 25 year winner last weekend against Matsumoto Yamaga. He seems to be benefiting immensely from Vissel’s attacking philosophy, and of course the weaker J2 defences, but as long as he keeps up this standard of play he will continue to be a vital cog in Kobe’s promotion push.
Romero Franck – Montedio Yamagata
Opinions were fairly split when Montedio announced the signing of the Peruvian, ex-Mito midfielder, but I have to admit I’m a fan of Franck. Whenever I’ve seen him play, he has been one of those players you really don’t like the opposition to have but you would love to have on your team. He brings a “spikeyness” and an antagonistic element to Montedio’s midfield, something that was sorely lacking last year as they feebly fell out of the play-off picture. So far this year Franck has contributed 3 goals, to go with 3 yellow cards, to help propel Yamagata into 2nd place ahead of a showdown with leaders Vissel Kobe this weekend. It is very possible that Montedio won’t remain in the automatic promotion shake-up, but they won’t go quietly if Franck has anything to do with it.
Jun Kanakubo – Avispa Fukuoka
Kanakubo is actually on loan from J1 side Omiya Ardija, but he has looked very impressive in the early J2 season. He started off his season with a bang, coming off the bench to score a beautiful 20 yard curling effort against Yamagata. That was last game Avispa won, as they have stalled in recent weeks, but that is no fault of Kanakubo as he is always prodding, probing and looking to feed Avispa danger-man Hisashi Jogo. I wasn’t convinced by their fast start, but I think they will revert to the mean and I think Kanakubo will play a large part in Avispa’s season.
Kosei Shibasaki – Tokushima Vortis
Not a particularly glamourous choice, but the ex-Verdy player is one of the main reasons that Tokushima find themselves in the dizzy heights of fifth in J2. Shibasaki has scored twice this season, against Yokohama FC and Kyoto Sanga, and has added a streetwise presence that Vortis didn’t have last year. His physical style is a threat from set-pieces and means Tokushima are no pushovers in the middle. His glory days of Verdy & Frontale are past him, but he is proving quite an addition for Vortis.
Hirotsugu Nakabayashi – Fagiano Okayama
Fagiano Okayama have the best defensive record in the league having conceded a miserly 3 goals in their opening six games and their ‘keeper is a major reason why. Nakabayashi has kept three clean sheets so far, meaning that although Fagiano aren’t scoring much, they are always likely to be in games. In particular he made an outstanding save in the game against Giravanz Kitakyushu which helped Fagiano to a 0-0 draw in a game they scarcely deserved anything out of, and his excellent early save against Ehime provided the platform for his team’s win.
I’m sure there are others worthy of a mention, but it is still early in the season and I haven’t seen as much of all the teams as I would like to. If you think anyone should be on this list, let me know on here or on Twitter.