Greentown, Green Samurai, and Greenhorns in Hangzhou.
The Green Samurai of Hangzhou are back to Yellow Dragon stadium after weathering the rocky storm of 2012 and this season Zhejiangese hopefuls are looking at their youthful Greentown side and Okada’s second year in China to yield more on the pitch.
Takeshi Okada, the Japanese talisman, is fresh off signing a new two-year contract to keep him at Yellow Dragon stadium until 2014. Last year some unfortunate events showed how sensitive his participation in the CSL can be, but Okada has proven his pedigree and level of professionalism throughout while the club has proved its commitment to trusting its coach. What’s still to be proven is ability to win big matches and compete for trophy ware, something desperately needed for Hangzhou faithful.
After a season ending relegation battle, some diplomatic and financial turmoil, and continued exodus of talent in 2012 Hangzhou Greentown are gearing up for an improved season in 2013. Another 11th place finish will be unacceptable in the eyes of the Green-Soul fans as Okada is boosted by several significant new signings, new Japanese staff, and a year of CSL shenanigans experience under his belt.
Noteworthy: With exception to the expected loss of Bari Mamatil, the speedy Xinjiangese attacker, to Jiangsu and a loan return of winger Jeong Dong-Ho to Yokohama no other significant departures burden Greentown in 2013. This in itself is a major milestone for a club that, in recent years, lost nearly all of its top performers to the highest bidders in the CSL.
Huanglong (Yellow Dragon) Stadium is once again the home of Hangzhou’s heroes. Nightmares can soon be forgotten from the 2010-2011 season being played intermittently in neighboring cities of Yiwu and Jiaxing. At 45,000 capacity Yellow Dragon feels cavernous at times, especially last year with nearly an average of 35,000 fans per match MIA.
The Changes – Three New Faces, Three New Foreign Strikers
From 2012 Kim Dong-Jin remains the Korean defensive stalwart while Mazola steps up as the only returning Brazilian from last year’s samba trio in Hangzhou. He’ll be encouraged to create more chances with three new strike partners coming in to bolster the attack. First is Ivorian Davy Claude Angan N’Guessan from Molde FK. The athletic front man netted 22 goals last year as top scorer of Norwegian league champions Molde. This year he’ll be likely to shake up defenders in the CSL as Greentown’s most promising signing. Hangzhou’s most experienced signing of 2013 brings in the very interesting prospect of Masashi Oguro from Yokohama Marinos of the J League. The 32-year-old striker has collected 137 goals for club(s) and country, including stints abroad in Europe. Having played under Okada at Yokohama and the Japanese National team Oguro will surely fit well into the Greentown squad and system. However, this correspondent dares to ask if Oguro, or any Japanese player for that matter, is ready to fit with fans of the CSL? This will be a test for the league’s maturity. Finally, Czech Marek Jarolím will provide depth at the striking position for the Green Samurais.
Veteran keeper Jiangbo will surely be called upon to safeguard the defense while experienced playmaker Wang Song will be expected to continue to flourish as the centerpiece of the Japanese tikki-takki style of Okada.
Last year’s Greentown looked more like Greenhorns, with a starting squad average that might have been the youngest in the league. Pressure will be mounting on young guns Shike and Chen Zhongliu, who last year proved to be precocious teenagers that can make plays in the CSL. Shike, Chen, and the other Hangzhou Greenhorns will be looking to raise the bar this year.
The X Factor – Greentown’s Japanese System: Version 2.0
This year Okada expands his staff at Greentown with four new Japanese coaches, including several youth coaches, showing Greentown’s commitment to create Japanese influenced playing style within the club. Having signed a new two-year contract to extend his stay until 2014 Okada will surely anticipate more consistent results in 2013.
A top half finish should be manageable with the new signings and second year of experience of Okada & Co. An ACL spot would be a stretch considering the youthfulness in the squad. Still, with a young side likely to commit to Okada’s system successfully introducing a new style of play in the CSL may be an accomplishment in itself for the Green Samurai.