Mito remains in 3rd place after a hard fought match in a crisp and cloudy Maebashi on Saturday. Two Mito players on loan recorded first-ever pro goals and as always, Mito brought out one of the most exciting matches of the day.
The North Kanto derby has been getting more press than usual thanks to the introduction of Tochigi to the mix, and the addition of an official trophy with league backing has made the matches more important than the usual fare. While the lowest standing title possible in the country, probably less prestigious than even a JFL league title, it would mean the first trophy any of the three sides would win in their respective histories. Both teams clearly wanted to win to gain in standing and before the match, Mito players had suggested that this was the most important match of the first half of the season for many reasons.
While both teams have better records than expected in the young season, Mito was on a four game win streak and in great form, so it was surprising to see them allow the first goal for the first time this season. It was a tap-in that keeper Honma had no chance to answer. Before the first half ended, though, midfielder Morimura received a pass and fired from beyond the penalty box into the upper left corner. Kusatsu's keeper could only get his fingertips on it and the score was tied at one-all going into halftime.
The new half saw striker Takasaki brought in and he made his presence felt, looking very much like Arata in style. He received a quality through-pass from Morimura and kept slightly ahead in a foot race with a Kusatsu defender. Going half the field length, he always stayed a pace ahead until one-on-one with the keeper and he popped the ball into the far post, which then bounced into the net. Mito's lead would be short-lived though as captain Owada would make a rare mistake with 20 minutes to go. About to pass the ball back to keeper Honma, he was unaware of the Kusatsu forward racing towards him. The resulting collision had all three players make contact with the ball as it started rolling slowly towards the Mito goal. The Kusatsu player ran hard to make sure it would go in, but it would be unnecessary as nobody else would be able to reach it.
While conceding a goal (and joint 2nd place in the standings) through an error like this was painful, in the end the draw was probably the fairest result. Mito outshot Kusatsu and created more convincing chances but Kusatsu's defense was strong and the midfield showed a lot of quality, mistake-free play. Those watching the match were not only treated to a great show but also a preview of what could be North Kanto's year to shine in Japanese soccer. Kashima always has strength in J1, and now Mito and Kusatsu are showing new power in J2. Below the pro levels, Arte Takasaki are showing the most surprising rebound in quality and are a team to fear in the JFL and Ibaraki's Ryutsu Keizai University continue to be the most respected university team in the country. Only one month down but if this continues, the U-shaped contiguous area composing Tokyo, Saitama, Gunma, and Ibaraki will be the heart of Japanese soccer in 2009.