With just over a week to go until Japan begins its campaign in the first ever Tournament of Nations against Brazil, head coach Asako Takakura has named the 23 players she feels will be capable of competing in this competition.
Utsugi the sole representative from the NWSL
The only Japanese player currently plying their trade in the NWSL is Rumi Utsugi. The midfielder has become a key cog in Seattle Reign FC's push towards a playoff berth and after a slow start to her NWSL career last season, has found her rhythm this season and currently playing at a high level. The 28-year-old has made ten appearances this season and although has not found the back of the net yet, has been a great calming factor in the Reign midfield. Her passing has been eye-catching and her ability to read the field has aided her high interception rate as well. Alongside Jess Fishlock, Utsugi has anchored the Seattle midfield as they currently sit in fourth in the standings and look to push on in the latter stages of this season.
Due to the short nature of the Tournament of Nations, Utusgi will not miss any league matches for her team and will actually join the national team on July 24th without having to leave her city as Japan start the competition in Seattle against Brazil on July 27th. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Utsugi will be set to start in midfield for Japan and hopefully perform just as well as she has for her club team.
Takakura continues to integrate new faces
If you take a look at the roster that Japan will be using for this tournament, many will notice some big names that have been left off the list. Takakura has been committed to bedding in new faces into the national team set up as the former World champions prepare for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. The biggest name will undoubtedly be that of Saki Kumagai who has been left out of this roster this time around. The Olympique Lyonnais defensive midfielder has been left out of the squad even after a fantastic season that saw her lift three trophies with her club team.
Mana Iwabuchi has also not been called up by Takakura as the Japanese coach looks to try different players in what is considered a 'down' year for the teams involved in this competition. The Chicago Red Stars' Yūki Nagasato will also miss out on the tournament due to injury and will continue her rehabilitation in Japan.
The full 23-player roster
Goalkeepers: Ayaka Saitoh (Vegalta Sendai), Sakiko Ikeda (Urawa Red Diamonds), Ayaka Yamashita (NTV Beleza).
Defenders: Aya Sameshima (INAC Kobe Leonessa), Kaede Nakamura (Albirex Niigata), Riho Sakamoto (AC Nagano Parceiro), Hikari Takagi (Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara), Ayumi Oya (Ehime FC), Hikaru Kitagawa (Urawa Red Diamonds), Nana Ichise (Vegalta Sendai).
Midfielders: Mizuho Sakaguchi (NTV Beleza), Madoka Haji (Iga FC Kunoichi), Rumi Utsugi (Seattle Reign FC), Emi Nakajima (INAC Kobe Leonessa), Hikaru Naomoto (Urawa Red Diamonds), Yu Nakasato (NTV Beleza), Rin Sumida (NTV Beleza), Yui Hasegawa (NTV Beleza).
Forwards: Shiho Tomari (AC Nagano Parceiro), Yuika Sugasawa (Urawa Red Diamonds), Kumi Yokoyama (1. FFC Frankfurt), Mina Tanaka (NTV Beleza), Yuka Momiki (NTV Beleza).