Chivas USA made it official on Tuesday, announcing they have signed defender Akira Kaji. The 34-year-old former Japan international will be eligible to play for the Goats beginning with the July 12 game against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The move is the first of the summer transfer window for CUSA, although it may not be the last considering the pace with which the current regime has gotten rid of players so far this year. And as it appears he comes on a free transfer, like all of Chivas USA's international acquisitions so far this season. Off the field, it is a landmark of sorts, as Kaji is the first Asian player to have been signed by the club in its history. Although he doesn't have the biggest name recognition, his resume, as an international who played 64 times for his country, including at the 2006 World Cup, and a former J-League Best XI honoree, seems to bode well for the team.
Kaji has had team success to date, as well. Starting his career at Cerezo Osaka in 1998, he played on loan at J-2 side Oita Trinita in 2000-01. A U-20 international, he was part of the Japan team that finished second at the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship (now called the U-20 World Cup). In 2002, he moved to FC Tokyo, where he won the J. League Cup in 2004. He also won the Asian Cup with Japan that year.
In 2006, he moved to Gamba Osaka, where he played until the move stateside. He also enjoyed the most success of his career, winning the J. League Cup in 2007, the AFC Champions League in 2008, and the Emperor's Cup in 2008 and 2009.
On the field for Chivas USA, the move would appear to be an acknowledgment that Eric Avila, though solid this season playing out of position at right back, isn't actually a defender and Kaji may be able to give the backline a lift. Of course, while I haven't verified this, if Kaji (34 years old) plays with Carlos Bocanegra (35), Bobby Burling (29), and Tony Lochhead (32) as the starting defense, it has to be the oldest in MLS, with a combined age of 130.
So Wilmer Cabrera is going all-in with experience on his defense. Will that prove better than previous coach Jose Luis Real's strategy of going all-in on youth? Can't we do like most teams and combine the two, or better yet, go for players in their primes?
I digress. Welcome to the team, Akira!
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