SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake went to great lengths to find depth at the outside back spot – 5,500 miles to be exact.
That’s where GM Garth Lagerwey came across Terukazu Tanaka on a scouting trip to Tokyo. Now the Japanese right back may be forced into early service with the status of starter Chris Wingert in doubt for RSL’s opener at LA on Saturday.
Should Tanaka (above left) see action against the Galaxy, he could be just the second Japanese player ever to lace up the boots in MLS.
Colorado Rapids defender Kosuke Kimura was the first, while two additional Japanese players made MLS rosters this season: Kohei Yamada in Colorado, and Jun Marques Davidson in Vancouver. And that’s a trend that’s likely to continue, according to Lagerwey, who feels that Japanese players are a good fit for this league, and in particular RSL.
“The leagues are pretty comparable,” RSL’s general manager explained after training on Tuesday. “The levels are similar, but if you have somebody that you can literally pull out and plug into your system then that’s somebody that’s going to have a much better chance of being successful in the short term, and so that was the big thing with Terukazu.”
The typical Japanese team plays a similar style to RSL – a very possession-oriented style often utilizing a formation familiar to the Claret-and-Cobalt.
“They play with fullbacks that run up and down the outside, with pinched in midfielders,” Lagerwey said. “They play with No. 10s. They play a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield.”
Lagerwey made his visit to Japan along with D.C. United GM Dave Kasper and Takehiko Nakamura, who is the league scouting coordinator in Asia. It was there that they attended a re-entry combine for out-of-contract players. That’s where Lagerwey first caught sight of Tanaka.
“He reminded me of [former RSL left back] Ian Joy a little bit," he explained. "He didn’t make a lot of mistakes. He was able to get forward, and he was able to perform in a system that looked a lot like ours.”
In addition, Tanaka has a decent pedigree.
“He’s a kid who had figured prominently in Japan’s youth national teams,” Lagerwey said. “He had just never broken through in Japan and was looking for a fresh start. He just had a great attitude. He really wanted to come and was really enthusiastic about the new opportunity. He’s a neat kid.”
All of this made signing the former Sagan Tosu (J-League 2) right back a no-brainer.
“I did see Yamada, but we didn’t rate him as high as Tanaka,” admitted Lagerwey. “We literally offered him a contract while we were there.”
For Tanaka, he sees the move to MLS as a personal challenge and wants to make the most of it.
“I want to get into some games and see some playing time in games,” he told MLSsoccer.com through an interpreter after Thursday’s training session. “I also want to see Real Salt Lake win another title. In order to do that, I’m going to work my hardest to do my part, and do everything I can to help make that happen.”