Mito put up its best fight ever against the national champions in Saturday's exhibition match. Mito played about 80% strength against Kashima's 60% or so, as Mito is still experimenting with some defenders and forwards and Kashima had a few players on national team duty.
The game played remarkably in Mito's favor in the first half. Although both teams made their chances on goal, Mito had a heartbreaking shot bounce of the right post as forward Koike almost gave Mito its first ever lead over Kashima. The first half ended scoreless at Mito's pace.
Kashima made a few changes in style and brought in new players for the second half, but Mito kept things close even through Kashima's first goal. Things first looked desperate when Mito went down to 10 players with 15 minutes left, as Nakamura got a second yellow in his first game after transitioning from defender to midfielder. In the very last play of the game, Mito's keeper Honma did the only thing possible in the situation and ran to the opposing goal, hoping to add to the number of heads aiming from the cross. Unfortunately Kashima took control of the ball and a player was able to fire it down the field at an empty goal, where it would roll in unopposed. It's unfortunate that Koike couldn't score in the first half as that would have led to Mito's first ever draw with Kashima, assuming all else would have remained the same.
Koike as well as the returning Ohashi put in some great effort and will likely play ahead of Yoshihara and Endo this year, either taking their places of pushing the other two back to the wing slots.