Mito played hard at home for the season's first match, and won the opening match for the first time in 7 years. Unfortunately, the opposing team was near the bottom of the rankings last year and Mito did not play as focused in the second half and Tochigi posed more of a threat. Everyone in the stadium seemed to acknowledge that Mito won with a whimper.
The hard play was tempered by the wet conditions and body placement mistakes, rather than play errors, define most of the game's turnovers. This would be best exemplified by rookie Kato, who came off the bench to soon score his first pro goal... by heading a long cross into his own net for an own goal. Also, at other points, keeper Honma slipped at dangerous points and needed to be bailed out by defenders. Field players on both sides were falling down at various points in the match.
Mito's two goals were both the result of a seemingly rejuvenated Kota Yoshihara. Playing as a winger on the right side, he in the first half dribbled around several defenders before crossing on the ground to a charging Endo, who tapped it in for the first goal of the season. After the break, following one of the few real fouls of the game in the Tochigi penalty area, Yoshihara casually shot it past Mito's former backup keeper Takeda.
The conditions took a more serious toll on captain Owada. In the second half, he ended up on the grass with serious leg pain and needed to be replaced by Kato. Off field, he took off his left shoe and sock and favored his left leg. This was the leg severely injured two years ago that kept him sidelined for most of the season. There is no report yet on his long-term condition.
Despite the negative points, starting the season on a win is always positive. With Tokyo Verdy having a game in hand and with 35 games over 38 rounds to go, Mito is tied for 3rd place. Hopefully this won't be the last time Mito is at this ranking.
Saturday's game against Kofu will be a much tougher test. Although losing last weekend, Kofu's beefed up squad is much more of a threat than last year, and is considered a top contender for promotion this year. A win away on the 13th would mean much more than the Tochigi win.