2022 J2 Team of the Year

The regular J2 season came to an end on Sunday with Montedio Yamagata sealing the final spot in the play-offs, where they will join Fagiano Okayama, Roasso Kumamoto, and Oita Trinita.

The second tier served up plenty of terrific football in 2022, with several players as ever standing out from the crowd and looking like they have very bright futures ahead of them.

Here, then, is my J2 Team of the Year. Goalkeeper aside, I wanted to pick players 25 or under who still have the potential to move on to bigger and better things in the coming years – either with their current clubs or by heading to pastures new. (Those from automatically promoted Albirex Niigata and Yokohama FC or on loan from other clubs were not considered for selection.)

GK: José Aurelio Suárez (Tokushima Vortis, 26)

On just his second appearance for Vortis, Suárez frustrated V-Varen Nagasaki with a series of improbable saves to preserve a 0-0 draw for his side – the second of 13 clean sheets he would keep all season after also shutting Renofa Yamaguchi out on his debut. The Spaniard ultimately established himself as the best shot-stopper in the second tier, and any coach would love to have him as their last line of defence. 

RB: Daiki Fukazawa (Tokyo Verdy, 24)

An all-action full-back, Fukazawa has looked equally at home on the right or left for Verdy this year. As well as not shying away from physical battles on the deck or in the air the Tokyo youth product who signed professional terms after graduating from Chuo University in 2021 is also positive in possession and confident in the final third, notching three goals and two assists in his 32 appearances this year. 

CB: Masahiro Sugata (Roasso Kumamoto, 25)

While his fellow defenders Kohei Kuroki and Osamu Henry Iyoha are given more of a license to roam forwards, Sugata remains the rock at the back for Roasso and played a vital role as Takeshi Oki’s team followed up on their title winning 2021 J3 campaign with a push into the J1 play-offs. Like a proper old-school centre-back he also poses a threat at attacking set-pieces, from which he scored four goals this year.

CB: Seiya Baba (Tokyo Verdy, 20)

Baba featured as a centre back for Japan at the U23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan in June, but showed over the course of another typically inconsistent season for Verdy that he can also comfortably play in central midfield or at right back. For the purposes of my formation I’ve chosen him as a centre-back for his physicality in the duels and confidence on the ball, but his ability to perform a range of roles would provide a real asset to the team.

LB: Kento Hashimoto (Renofa Yamaguchi, 22)

An exciting talent who has good defensive awareness and is also a threat moving into the final third. Hashimoto made 35 appearances this year as he firmly established himself as first choice irrespective of whether Yoshihiro Natsuka opted for a three- or four-man backline. The Yokohama native also showcased some quality at the business end of the pitch, scoring twice and providing four assists.

DM: So Kawahara (Roasso Kumamoto, 24)

Like Sugata, Kawahara has been an irreplaceable part of Roasso’s starting 11 this year, playing every minute of every game as the central pivot in the team’s unorthodox 3-1-3-2-1 set-up. The former Ozu High School and Fukuoka University player is excellent in and out of possession and provides the perfect bridge between defence and attack, allowing the rest of Takeshi Oki’s attack-minded team to express itself with confidence.

CM: Masaki Yumiba (Oita Trinita, 20)

An energetic presence in the middle of the park, Yumiba is a smooth operator who looks equally comfortable winning back possession, moving the ball on to a teammate, or making decisive contributions in the final third. The Trinita youth product was preferred by Takahiro Shimotaira to veterans Yuki Kobayashi and Eduardo Neto as his first professional season progressed, also finding the net three times and providing a pair of assists.  

CM: Shunto Kodama (Tokushima Vortis, 23)

Another classy presence in the middle of the park, Kodama’s quick feet and equally quick footballing brain made him a firm favourite of Daniel Poyatos this year. While he will want to add more of a clinical touch in front of goal after failing to find the net in the league he is far from ineffective in the final third, contributing an impressive nine assists as Vortis narrowly missed out on the play-offs.

AM: Naohiro Sugiyama (Roasso Kumamoto, 24)

Another key figure for Roasso this year, the left-footed Sugimoto primarily causes problems on the right side of the team’s attack, from where he is always looking to play with intent and cut sharply inside to get quick shots or crosses off. That approach saw him score nine goals and set up a further four for teammates in 2022, and he will undoubtedly be one to keep an eye on in the play-offs and beyond.

AM: Yudai Tanaka (Fagiano Okayama, 22)

At just 162cm Tanaka is short in stature but big in influence, and the tricky playmaker instantly earned Takashi Kiyama’s trust in his first professional season after joining Fagiano from Waseda University. The Kanagawa native scored on his J.League debut, missed just three league games all season, and as well as keeping opposing defenders permanently on their toes also contributed a solid five goals and one assist to Okayama’s promotion push. 

CF: Toshiki Takahashi (Roasso Kumamoto, 24)

A powerful centre-forward who led the line terrifically for Roasso this year and notched 14 goals as his side cruised into the play-offs. As well as remaining cool and calm when the chances come his way, the former Kokushikan University man is also more than capable of playing a role in deeper positions by bringing teammates into the game with an array of classy tricks and flicks.

Subs: Yuma Obata (Vegalta Sendai, 20), Shunsuke Nishikubo (JEF United, 19), Hiroto Taniguchi (Tokyo Verdy, 23), Yuto Nagamine (Zweigen Kanazawa, 22), Kodai Sano (Fagiano Okayama, 19), Yohei Okuyama (Iwate Grulla Morioka, 22), Ko Miyazaki (Tochigi SC, 23)


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