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.