In a clash between Ibaraki's pro teams, Mito and about 1,000 supporters drove the hour south to Kashima Soccer Stadium. There was a total of 7,005 in attendance and we were all treated to an amazing display like I hadn't experienced in Japanese soccer.
Both Mito and Kashima fielded a mix of top team and bench players. For Mito, it was to give big game experience to those who haven't been in such a situation, most notably third string keeper Harada who played the entire game.
Kashima players commented after the game that they were happy with the win more than their play, and felt lucky to get 2 points. Mito pushed extremely hard for the entire match. At first, to keep it scoreless for much of the first half, disabling the Kashima offence and noticably preventing star striker Marquinos from making any impact in the game. The game played fairly evenly the first half, with Mito speedily pressing and forcing Kashima to attack with no pause as the relentless visitors continued to slide and strip each ball possible. Unfortunately for Mito, an attacking Kashima means a scoring Kashima and a well placed set play put Kashima up by one in the first half.
Mito took control in the second half, however. The team continuously moved and passed as there was nothing to lose, and each player went all out. Coach Maeda followed suit by taking out one defender to bolster the offense. Kashima looked more bewildered in play style than anything else as Mito never stopped pushing on all parts of the field. The team simply kept going no matter what. Even after allowing a quickcross into a heading shot for a goal, Mito's ferocity in opening up presses and fast breaks gave Mito fans hope until additional time neared a close at the end of the last half.
Of course, good play without conversion is worth little in the end, and just as has happened all season, shots were weak, wide, and rare. This was a game that showed Mito to lack only that deciding element, and showed that with that element, Mito could play in any part of Japan's professional league. There is no lack of effort or talent on the back side, and the middle of the field kept the ball in visitor possession. In this game, it was Mito who made things happen and decided how Kashima would have to counter, as opposed to scraping for any opening possible. It was rare for Mito, and rare for Japan.
I'm currently watching the English Premier League's Newcastle United vs. Portsmouth on SkyPerfecTV after highlights of other English matches, and it's actually my first time to see professional soccer other than what is in Japan or the US. It's incredibly ironic as I've heard great things about the fast play and skilled teamwork the top league in the world can show, and I see that the unique display I saw in Kashima today is similar to that style of play. It's a shame that this match was only shown on Ibaraki's NHK broadcast satellite which perhaps 10 people bother to watch.
One thing Mito will ALWAYS have over Kashima, though, is parking. It was 800 yen just to park a kilometer away and walk.