Chivas USA announced on Tuesday they have signed defender Akira Kaji. The former Japanese international has spent his entire career to date playing in his home country, and because of that, we drafted in someone who watched Kaji closely and regularly the past few seasons in Japan. Thomas Birch is a fan of Kaji's last team, Gamba Osaka, and writes about the club in English at his website, Gamba Osaka Pride. He agreed to share his expertise on the newest Goat, and for that, we're very thankful! You can follow Thomas on twitter @GambaOsakaPride.
Here's what Thomas offered up as a scouting report on Kaji:
Chivas are getting a very competent and steady defender in Akira Kaji, who has a vast amount of experience in Japan having spent his entire career there in a very competitive league, always being one of the stand-out right backs in the league. He has spent a few seasons in the second tier, just like last season with Gamba Osaka, but acquitted himself well in a tough division. He also has 64 caps to his name for the national side although the last one of those came in 2008. The move to the USA for Kaji was a surprise to fans of Gamba Osaka but with the manager looking to use younger and more energetic players, Kaji will be just the first of many to be let go despite being our vice-captain, underlining his leadership qualities - a move that suits both parties and is understandable from my viewpoint.
As a Gamba fan, I have been able to watch the team since 2012 and during that period, Kaji has had a bit of a tough time with injuries, particularly in 2012 when he missed around half of the league campaign through various little niggles. He also joins Chivas on the back on a right foot injury which ultimately led to his place as number 1 right-back being taken by understudy Oh Jae-Suk. With the return of our other right-back Koki Yonekura from injury too, Kaji seems to have fallen quickly down the pecking order. 2013 saw Kaji play almost the entirety of the season, missing just 5 games through suspension or being rested.
That is not to say he is not a good defender though. Whilst he will not be one who will get the odd goal from right back, he has picked up 8 assists from that position since 2012. The most important aspect of his game will be in defence though, where he is usually very solid and hard to beat, putting himself in good positions even in one-on-one situations against notably quicker opponents. Nevertheless, this lack of pace will be easily exposed if he is caught up field in attack which happens regularly at Gamba due to our way of playing the game. Kaji is your reliable defender type but can be caught out with the odd mistake - something that happened a lot in J.League Division 2 last year due to high pressure by opponents early on in games. No such mistake has been shown in 2014 and he joins Chivas in decent form, albeit cut short through injury.
The biggest challenge for Kaji will be the language barrier. I believe that both English and Spanish are spoken and having met Kaji last year, I think it is safe to say his English is either non-existent or limited (probably the latter). With his bubbly and confident personality, I can see him giving the language(s) his best shot in order to communicate with his teammates and other members of staff; the language barrier will be one factor as to whether he can succeed with Chivas or not. Another barrier will be settling in quickly, something many Japanese players tend to struggle to do when moving abroad. In Kaji's case, I am positive he can fit in well especially given the Japanese community in California which might help with homesickness if that becomes a factor.
If Kaji plays the way I know he can - reliable, dependant and hard-working - along with overcoming a few cultural barriers as well as adapting to the league quickly, I think he could be a success with Chivas. 34 is an odd age for a player to be making his first leap into foreign football but it has been a dream for Kaji and this leads me to believe he will be giving it all he's got to make it a success.
Us Gamba fans will be cheering him on, as well as Chivas, and hope he can do well in what may be the final chapter of a very good career. Chivas will be getting a top player and guy if he can replicate his performances for Gamba to Chivas. The best thing he can do is relish the challenge and ultimately enjoy it; if he does that, Chivas will be a better team for it and the move will be a success.
Good luck to both Kaji and Chivas.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!