My 2020 J2 Best 11

While few complaints could be made about Kawasaki Frontale dominating the official J1 Best 11 for 2020, the fan selections announced for J2 and J3 didn’t paint an especially clear picture of the best those leagues have to offer. Here, then, are the players I think are deserving of attention from the 2020 J2 season… (日本語版)

The J.League Awards took place on 22 December, at which the standout individuals from the 2020 season were honoured for their achievements in what has been an incredibly trying year.

Michael Olunga was the big winner and rightly recognised as Player of the Year after another phenomenal campaign for Kashiwa Reysol, while the bulk of runaway champions Kawasaki Frontale’s first team made up over 80 percent of the Best 11.

The following day teams of the year voted for by fans were also announced for J1, J2 and J3, although these unsurprisingly veered more towards big names at the expense of players with smaller profiles who had shone in 2020. As much as I love Yasuhito Endo, for instance, he had no business being in the second tier team of the year, while the J3 selection comprising of eight Gamba Osaka U-23 players was hardly a fair reflection of the season – they finished 14th in the 18 team division.

With this in mind I thought I’d put together an 11 of my own, with the aim of drawing attention towards some names who may have flown under the radar slightly but who nevertheless put in stellar performances for their respective clubs over the past six months or so.

My team is comprised of up-and-coming talent in J2, and is intended to shine a light on those who have the potential to go on and make an impact in J1 or even further afield in the coming years. In keeping with this theme, I decided not to include any players from either Tokushima Vortis or Avispa Fukuoka as they will already be in the top flight next year, and those on loan from J1 clubs were also exempt from selection.

Without any further ado then, here is my selection.

Goalkeeper – Ryosuke Kojima (Albirex Niigata, 23 years old)

Kojima spent a large part of this season out injured, but while his stand-in Kazuki Fujita – himself just 19 – also did very well, Kojima’s importance to the side was made clear by his absence. He kept seven clean sheets in his 22 appearances, with Albirex claiming nine of their 14 wins while he was between the posts.

Centre back – Yasutaka Yanagi (Tochigi SC, 26)

The oldest player in this team, but one who had a breakout J.League season after barely featuring for parent club Albirex Niigata in 2018 or 2019. Solid defensively and also a serious threat in the opponent’s penalty area, Yanagi notched six goals including four winners – three of which came deep into stoppage time.

Centre back – Nduka Boniface (Mito Hollyhock, 24)

Racked up the most minutes for Mito this year as he took over from veteran Junya Hosokawa as the defensive leader for Tadahiro Akiba’s side. There were a few mistakes on the way and Hollyhock were far from solid at the back, but Boniface’s committed and all-energy approach to defending (and attacking) definitely mark him out as one to keep an eye on.

Centre back – Daihachi Okamura (Thespakusatsu Gunma, 23)

The only outfield player in J2 to play every single minute of the 2020 season, Okamura is a composed and confident performer both in and out of possession. It’s little wonder that he has already been snapped up by Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, and it will be interesting to see how he gets on testing himself against higher quality opposition in 2021.

Right wing-back – SeiyaMaikuma (V-Varen Nagasaki, 23)

An attacking player by trade, Maikuma was a surprise selection on the right side of Varen’s defence but repaid Makoto Teguramori’s trust and made the position his own. Unsurprisingly comfortable moving forward with the ball at his feet, the youngster also showed good positional awareness going in the other direction as Varen narrowly missed out on promotion.

Left wing-back – ShionHomma (Albirex Niigata, 20)

Already attracting attention from a host of clubs in the first division and the only player I’ve chosen who was also included in the fan selection, Homma is one of the hottest prospects in J2 right now. Always willing to take on his man and possessing a terrific shot from range, the Niigata native is always capable of making something happen from nothing and isn’t afraid to also put in a shift defensively.

Central Midfield – Joel Chima Fujita (Tokyo Verdy, 18)

The epitome of a modern central midfielder, Fujita established himself as undroppable for Hideki Nagai’s side this year. The teenager reads the game superbly and is adept at breaking down opposition attacks, while he also has the ability to stride forward and make things happen in the other direction as well. Could develop into a superb player.

Central Midfield – Kaishu Sano (Machida Zelvia, 20)

After mostly being used as a full back by Naoki Soma in 2019, Ranko Popovic made Sano a first choice in the centre of the park after returning to Machida this year and the youngster flourished alongside Gamba Osaka loanee Leo Takae. His positional sense makes him incredibly adept at winning back possession, and he is efficient and effective in possession as well. 

Forward – Takahiro Akimoto (Tochigi SC, 22)

Fans love it when a local lad makes an impact in the first team, and Akimoto certainly did that for Tochigi this year. Technically gifted and always proactive, the Utsunomiya native grew into the No.9 role as the season progressed, and as well as finding the net seven times he also regularly brought his teammates into attacks and provided eight assists.

Forward – Mutsuki Kato (Zweigen Kanazawa, 23)

A proper centre forward, Kato was a revelation this year. Always looking to get in behind, he not only has the pace to get away from defenders but also the technical ability and composure needed to make his chances count once he’s done so. There were misses too, but like all good strikers he doesn’t dwell on them and instead focuses on getting in a position to try again.

Forward – Akira Silvano Disaro’ (Giravanz Kitakyushu, 24)

Disaro’ is one of those players it’s just fun to watch. Seems to genuinely enjoy every moment out on the pitch and puts in an incredible shift hassling and harrying from the front. More than that though, he is capable of scoring a range of goals and is the kind of striker most teams would love to have leading the line.

Subs: Kengo Nagai (Giravanz Kitakyushu, 26); Hayato Kurosaki (Tochigi SC, 24), Yuta Kumamoto (Montedio Yamagata, 25); Ryotaro Nakamura (Ventforet Kofu, 23); Kensei Ukita (Renofa Yamaguchi, 23), Kanji Okunuki (Omiya Ardija, 21), Ryoma Kida (V-Varen Nagasaki, 23)

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