After spending the entirety of his career in Japan, at age 34 Akira Kaji has made his dream move abroad to the USA to join the ranks of struggling side Chivas USA. This was probably the last chance the defender had to play outside of his native country and so he has taken the big leap to test himself one final time.
The move does come as a surprise to Gamba fans with Kaji seemingly the first choice despite picking up and injury after the Osaka Derby which was his last game for us and interestingly enough against his first team. Oh Jae-Suk revelled in his chance to take over as first choice and has been stunning since, pushing Kaji down the pecking order whilst he was on the injury list. Yonekura also made it back from injury and cemented his place in the top 2.
Despite all this though, one could have been forgiven for thinking that Kaji would come back to fight for his place having started the season very well after a somewhat poor season in J2. Of course, Kaji came up with no goals and no assists but was solid enough at right-back. Perhaps the younger legs of Oh and Yonekura are what we need and cutting Kaji off the wage bill is probably a bonus for the club.
He will be joining Chivas USA having flown out to the States last week and he participated in a reserve match on the weekend. The team currently sits in 9th place and therefore last position in the Western Conference on 11 points, 5 points adrift at the bottom. It seems as though the team does need a fully-fledged right-back so Kaji might just be taking that spot for himself. He will need to keep an eye on injuries though as they have been particularly present in the last few seasons. I do not believe that the man speaks much/any English or Spanish so the sooner he can get that sorted the better.
I am unsure of success for Kaji in the USA but you can forgive him for trying it out before bowing out of the game. I certainly thought he would end his career with us but I hope he can bow out as a success in Chivas. We will be keeping our eye on him and cheering him on. Hopefully Chivas will be able to improve with Kaji around – he’s a funny guy too and will certainly be missed in Osaka.
Good luck Kaji! Don’t forget to come back if all else fails, we love you!
Photo taken from fc2.com. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.
Gamba secured top spot in Group A in the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup to end the first half of the season in higher spirits after taking 2 wins and 1 defeat in the final three group matches. We were joined by Kansai rivals Vissel Kobe in the quarter-final draw as both teams finished on 12 points.
Gamba Osaka 2-1 Kashima Antlers
It was the クラクラ (Kura-Kura) combination that won the game for us against a strong Antlers side with Shu Kurata netting his 2nd goal of the season early doors whilst Yonekura, deputising for the banned Oh, scored the winner late on in the game after Davi had pulled the visitors level with just under 20 minutes to go. The undoubted man of the match was Masaaki Higashiguchi however, as he pulled off top save after top save to keep us in the Antlers-dominated contest, whilst the defence did well to keep the opposition to long-range efforts for most of the time. Without Usami this was a big win but unfortunately for Yosuke Ideguchi, who started his first ever professional game at Banpaku, it was a day to learn from having made numerous mistake and being dragged off with only 30 minutes gone. The win put us on 9 points but still in 2nd place.
Gamba Osaka 3-1 FC Tokyo
Takashi Usami returned to the starting eleven following a short injury and inspired us to a wonderful win over FC Tokyo just a week after they had humiliated us in the league. Takashi found the net early in the game with a rocket from outside of the box that had Shiotani in goal stranded but Tokunaga scored for the second game in a row at Banpaku with a belter of his own. Into the second half and Usami was at it again, latching onto a one-two with Abe before passing the ball into the back of the net although he was surrounded by 3 defenders. Nishino capped the win off with a terrific header from a Kurata (who played in defensive-midfield superbly for the final 30 minutes) corner to seal the win and move us into 1st place on 12 points with just a point needed to secure our own fate in our final game.
Vegalta Sendai 1-0 Gamba Osaka
It was not to be though as we looked laboured and already on our break as a 66th minute Shingo Akamine goal was the difference on the scoreline but the hosts were clearly the better side. Lins was decent but dragged off just before half-time in a baffling move whilst things almost got worse as manager Hasegawa was about to bring on Niwa to defend the lead but Akamine’s goal put a dent in those awful plans. We did not threaten an equaliser and had to depend on Kashima and Sendai to do us a favour against Shimizu and Kobe, both teams needing a 2-0 and a 5-0 or similar win to knock us out of the top 2. Shimizu lost which sent them crashing out in place of 2-1 winners Kobe over Sendai to send the Kansai teams through.
Photo taken from Gamba Osaka’s Official Site. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.