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Saturday, March 6, 2010
2010 J. LEAGUE PREVIEW
Team-by-team previews of the 18 teams competing in the first division.
Last season: eighth
What was shaping up to be a great season for Niigata fizzled out spectacularly when it came to the crunch last year, and it is difficult to see the Tohoku side finding that spark again when the new campaign gets under way.
Albirex were on the fringes of the title race for a long time before dropping off the pace, but with manager Jun Suzuki gone and a host of key players leaving over the winter, the omens do not look good.
Defenders Mitsuru Chiyotanda and Gilton will be sorely missed after moving to Nagoya Grampus and Kashima Antlers, respectively, while incoming midfielders Michael and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi look short of the pedigree required to get things back on track.
The upheaval is all the more frustrating given that Albirex seemed finally on their way toward realizing their potential last year.
Marcio Richardes and Isao Homma were as good as any midfielders in the league, while even much-maligned striker Kisho Yano managed a personal-best eight goals.
If the team leaders can stand up and be counted the season may not be a complete write-off, and new manager Hisashi Kurosaki will be hoping for a good start to clear away the doubts.
If that doesn't happen, Albirex could have a real fight on their hands.