In a dramatic playoff final, Tokyo Verdy clinched promotion to the J League with a late winner. Shimizu S-Pulse had taken the lead with a penalty kick in the 63rd minute, but a poorly timed challenge in added time gave Verdy a chance to tie it. Itsuki Someno, loaned in from Kashima Antlers, converted the penalty to make it 1-1. Despite the draw, Verdy was promoted because of their higher placement in the J League 2 season — league rules meant no extra time was played.
One of Japan’s most historic sides, Verdy was one of the ten founding clubs of the J League in 1993. They won the league that season, making them the first winners of the league — although the club’s name at the time was Verdy Kawasaki, having moved away from Tokyo when the league was founded. They wouldn’t move back to the capital until 2001.
Verdy was relegated from the top flight in 2005 and then again in 2008, which caused financial problems. After a couple of decent seasons in the second tier, Verdy plummeted in 2014, barely avoiding relegation to J League 3, the third tier of Japan. Two years later, they were in the same situation, avoiding relegation by just four points.
In 2017 and 2018, Verdy reached the promotion playoffs, falling short of promotion on both occasions. Since then, they have largely been a mid-table side, but that all changed this season.
Led by their strong defense — no side in the league conceded fewer goals than Verdy’s 31 in 42 matches — Verdy finished third in the league, tied with second-placed Júbilo Iwata. Júbilo went up automatically courtesy of their better goal differential, meaning Verdy could only be promoted through the promotion play-offs.
They were pitted against JEF United in the semi-finals, but two goals before halftime were enough in a 2-1 victory. In the finals, Verdy would face Shimizu S-Pulse, who had been relegated from the J League the previous season. Shimizu was just four minutes away from a return to the J League, but Someno’s penalty ensured Verdy would go up instead.
Verdy will have their work cut out for them next season, though. Many of their key players, like Someno and Hikaru Nakahara, are only at the club on loan, while some of their other stars are sure to attract interest from elsewhere. Additionally, the J League is a big step up in quality, and they will have to deal with two local rivals next season: FC Tokyo and Machida Zelvia. However, after this season, it looks like anything is possible for Verdy.
Verdy has seen some fine players play for the club in the 21st century, notably bringing in Brazilian international Hulk and seeing the likes of Shoya Nakajima and Kento Misao come through the academy. Now back in the top flight, it will be exciting to see just how far the club can go.
Image Courtesy of jleague.co.