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Vissel Kobe in the Black
With new manager Hideki Matsunaga, this year's Vissel Kobe looks to be gearing up for a year of consistency and team power. Last year there were worries about relegation. This year, the team has added 6 new players, and the aim is to create stability and reliability -- if players get hurt, substitutes have a clear understanding of how to fill the position; a team concept of defense; higher quality in the offense.

If I hear Vissel, my mind immediately goes to the charismatic group of forwards. Former NT superstar Kazu Miura (who played with European and Brazilian clubs) will be turning 38 this year, and eyes will be on whether this will be his year or his last year. Eager to emulate Kazu's star aura with a style of his own is Ryuji Bando, 26, a very sharp aggressive forward who has remained just shy of NT recognition. Cameroon international, Patrick Mboma, can also be a scary weapon in front; he is coming off an injury and hopefully will be able to play at full throttle.

Perhaps the team had relied too heavily on bursts of magic to decide a game in the past, and this year Vissel has made sure to get their hands on highly consistent support players like current JapanNT member, Atsuhiro Miura, 31. Miura transferred from Verdy (where essentially his position was taken over by NT hopeful Soma during his absences due to NT duties). An experienced player, Miura will probably be a left wingback at Vissel. He is extremely stable defensively but is most famous for his free kick, a unique unrevolving ball that Zico has claimed is yet unduplicated in the world.

Although there was some testing of the 4-back formation during preseason games, the team appears to be most comfortable with a 3-back line. Expectations are that Roger will bring stability in the left defense position as well as provide the left side in general with the ability to speed up on the offense in combination with Miura. Most importantly, the group of players seem to have the flexibility of playing more than one specific type of position, which will come in handy later on in the year when injuries and other events arise. Key word: Stability.

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