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J2 for a Change...Kusatsu vs. Sapporo
I haven't had the time to follow the J2 season at all. I feel a little bad, considering last year I was rather inspired by the Kusatsu team's spirit and was looking forward to following their adventures in the J. I also love their name "TheSpa". This weekend the matches for the Nabisco Cup begin. J2 continues with the 3rd Round of matches.

I thought I'd put Nabisco to the side for today and take a look at the upcoming Kusatsu : Sapporo game. Both teams will be arriving at the match without a win this season. From what I've read, the general opinion is that Sapporo have the advantage despite the away environment. Kusatsu have allowed three goals and made none per match up to now, and coach Tezuka is insisting it's not a direct result of defense line issues. Coach Tezuka, who joined Kusatsu this season, has his heart set on a 4-back formation. Outside analysis seems to point the finger at the back line, which appeared to be full of holes due perhaps to the lack of player understanding/comfort of the new system. Tezuka feels that it is more an issue of the entire team being able to grasp the flow of the game and being able to attack and defend as a whole.

Kusatsu also have to contend with midfielder Yamaguchi's injury. He had just been released from suspension due to a red card in the Emperor's Cup games, when he promptly injured himself. Forward Yoshimoto received a red card in the previous match and will not be able to play this weekend. On top of that, I've read that Takasu may be shifted over from his central omf position to left half to strengthen the side, but it leaves the question of whether his position can be filled so quickly by another as effectively.

In comparison, Sapporo is not hurting so much. They have a full starting lineup. They understand that a big mental factor to this game will be to get the first goal. They are also looking to pierce Kusatsu's weak sides.

From what I've read of Kusatsu's previous two match reports, they do play a spirited attacking game with an almost three-player forward line (this is what coach Tezuka is aiming for). The recurring theme for teams like this is whether they are able to play a mature game -- avoid yellow/red cards (they got 3 yellows and 1 red just in their one game against Kyoto last week), maintain a level of patience, not lose spirit/focus when they allow a goal, etc. And when you have such an attacking team, the defense responsibilities of every player (not just the four defense players) is crucial.

It is going to be an interesting match to follow -- really, anything can happen (and probably will!). I will be rooting for Kusatsu; hopefully they can keep their heads and enjoy the game too.
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