VANCOUVER, BC – Other teams have hit the transfer market hard this offseason. But Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson has concentrated on re-signing his core, only adding two new faces so far: experienced Costa Rican midfielder Christian Bolanos and Japanese striker Masato Kudo.
Kudo's addition seemed to come somewhat out of left field, with Robinson moving away from his familiar well of Central and South American talent, instead landing the all-time leading scorer from J1 League side Kashiwa Reysol.
But as surprising as it seemed, the ‘Caps have kept 25-year-old Kudo on their radar for quite some time now.
“Kudo had been mentioned to me last year,” Robinson told MLSsoccer.com earlier this month. “At the time, we were unable to do anything. Maybe three months ago, someone had made contact with me about him possibly coming here again, so I made some steps and moves then to look at watching him a little more in-depth.”
- WATCH: Masato Kudo highlight reel
“After watching him and getting five, six different people's eyes on him and watching him live through someone who I know, then there was only ever one decision I wanted to do,” he continued. “That was to try and bring him to the club.”
The J League, its teams and its players are still something of an unknown quantity to most in North America. But Kudo comes to Vancouver with an impressive goal-scoring pedigree.
His 92 goals in 260 appearances for Kashiwa helped them to the 2011 J1 League Championship and the 2013 J League Cup. He's also scored twice in is four senior international appearances for Japan so far.
Kudo's reasons for coming to Major League Soccer at this stage of his career are clear, and it's all down to his continued development.
“I knew that Major League Soccer has a higher level of play,” Kudo told reporters through a translator at the start of the Whitecaps FC preseason training camp on Friday. “So I'm really excited to come over and play at that higher level.”
Leaving Kashiwa was certainly a tough decision for the out-of-contract Kudo. It's the only club the striker has known for these past 15 years, coming through their youth system to becoming a star player in the first team.
“Since elementary school and junior high, we've all been together and playing at the same field, practicing at the same field,” he said of his former Japanese club. “Everything is really close. It was a very family-like situation.”
It's for that very reason that Vancouver is a perfect fit for Kudo's first foray overseas, with Robinson building a similar family feel in the ‘Caps locker room.
The striker knows it won't all be smooth sailing, though. This will be a completely new experience for him, and he doesn’t speak much English. He has a basic grasp and is taking lessons, joking that if he has the time he may also learn Spanish to fit in with the rest of the 'Caps squad.
Still, he's confident he can be the player to help the 'Caps hit a rich vein of goal-scoring form. “I want to contribute by playing hard defence, scoring a lot of goals and being a good teammate,” he said. “I usually score goals in the penalty area, so I will try and score a lot of goals there.”
Last year, Octavio Rivero often had to plow a lone furrow up front, and Kudo should help take some pressure of the Uruguayan and free him up to be either creator or scorer, rather than both.
Although there haven't been all that many Japanese players in MLS over the years, Robinson believes that both the J League and the Asian market is an untapped area of talent for MLS sides, with Kudo serving as a perfect example.
“It's a market that has good players,” Robinson said. “Getting Japanese players, Korean players, is very difficult. They're very talented and if you look throughout the world, in different countries, you've got top, top players, playing in the top leagues.”
If Kudo proves to be the success Robinson hopes he will be, then others will be watching and keen to follow his journey, and the striker is happy to been seen to blaze a trail for future Japanese talent making the move over.
“My aspiration is to play very well so that more Japanese players will come over to play in MLS,” Kudo said. “And hopefully Japan will broadcast more MLS, so people can see what it's like.”
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