FC Ryukyu Update

We are now beyond the halfway stage of the 2019 J.League football season. As reported before, Okinawa’s only representatives in the J.League are FC Ryukyu who are competing for the first time in the second tier, J2, after becoming J3 champions last season.

After a surprisingly good start to the campaign Ryukyu have since struggled to maintain their early form and have slipped to the lower half of the league table. The club is apparently run on the proverbial shoestring budget and because of its geographical position has very long distances to travel to away games. Home attendances have improved from last year but are still small on an island with no real football culture or tradition.

FC Ryukyu before last Saturday’s kick-off

However, last Saturday was an exciting time to be an FC Ryukyu supporter as the team took on V-Varen Nagasaki who were relegated from J1 last season. The game was billed (rather awkwardly in English) as a ‘Peaceful Match’ in recognition of the terrible wartime sufferings of the people of both Okinawa and Nagasaki and a silence was observed by teams and supporters before the kick-off.

Ryukyu’s recent losing streak looked like continuing as they were 2-1 down going into the 85th minute. But the introduction of forward Ryo Wada proved to be an inspired substitution as he assisted for an equaliser by Satoki Uejo. With manager Higuchi frantically urging everyone forward from the touchline, Wada then scored himself in the seventh minute of added time to give Ryukyu three points and a very dramatic 3-2 victory.

Goalscoring substitute Ryo Wada

FC Ryukyu and V-Varen Nagasaki mascots 

Ryukyu are currently 15th in the 22-team league table and have given themselves a decent chance of staying in J2 for at least another season – which has always been the main aim. Manager Yasuhiro Higuchi is to be commended for sticking to his guns and continuing with Ryukyu’s attacking philosophy. There would be no point in changing it now especially in view of the limited resources at his disposal.

What is worrying is that the club sold their best midfielder Kazaki Nakagawa shortly after the start of the season and there are reports today that top goalscorer Koji Suzuki may also be leaving to join J1 club Cerezo Osaka. Nakagawa has never been properly replaced and the loss of Suzuki would be a big blow.

The club has, however, also been active in bringing in some new players over the past week or so. Young midfielder Ramon has arrived from Fluminense, Brazil, and another midfielder, Koya Kazama, came from Gifu on loan and has already made a mark by scoring the first goal on Saturday.

Manager Yasuhiro Higuchi with new signing Shinji Ono

The most high-profile signing though has been the capture of former Japan international Shinji Ono from J1 team Sapporo. Ono is a veteran with experience of three World Cup finals and is one of the greatest players produced by Japan. His arrival may well boost attendances at Ryukyu but he will be 40 next month so is unlikely to offer a huge amount on the pitch. Nevertheless, it’s hoped he may provide the knowledge and inspiration for his teammates as they fight for continued survival in J2 – and a brighter future for football in Okinawa.

Next Saturday (17th) FC Ryukyu are at home again, this time against Yokohama FC, kick off 19:00.


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