But their road to J1 was difficult; after winning the inaugural J2 season in 1999, Frontale were quickly relegated in 2000 with the league’s worst overall record. A four-year stretch in J2 followed, but left without a professional club after the departure of troubled former dynasty Verdy for Tokyo, Kawasaki City embraced newcomers Frontale as the area’s only professional club. The fanbase continued to expand, and the team even managed to reach the semi-finals of the Emperor’s Cup.
A record-setting 2004 season finally brought Frontale back to the J1, with 105 points and 104 goals from 44 games. Since 2005, the Kawasaki side have regularly finished on the upper half of the league table.
Led mostly by prolific Brazilian striker Juninho and Frontale-bred Kengo Nakamura, the club has continued to improve year-after-year, but has unfortunately become famous for coming up just short of the ultimate goal of a title.
After losing the final of the Yamazaki Nabisco League Cup in 2000, Frontale managed to come second a total of five times between 2006 and 2009: three times in the J.League (2006, 2008 and 2009), and twice again in the Nabisco Cup finals in 2007 and 2009.
Despite a lack of silverware from those years, Frontale arguably played the best football in Japan, won many supporters, and established themselves as a top club in both Japan and Asia through their frequent ACL appearances in those years. An inspired third-place finish in 2013, spurred by Golden Boot winner Yoshito Okubo’s 26 goals, helped Frontale return to Asian competition in the 2014 season.
Matches betwene Frontale and FC Tokyo, a rivalry which dates back to the JFL days and is considered one of Japan’s most intense, has become known as the Tamagawa Classico in honor of the river separating Kanagawa from Tokyo.
But their most famous Brazilian player was without a doubt Juninho, who scored an improbable 214 goals in 355 total appearances for the club. The striker was the J2 top scorer in 2004 with an astonishing 37 goals and would also become 2007’s Golden Boot winner in the J1.
Hailing from the southern island of Okinawa, forward Kazuki Ganaha was the first Okinawan to play for Japan’s national team and played over 240 games for Frontale. He has since returned to hometown club FC Ryukyu, who are aiming for membership in the J3.
Aside from Juninho, Frontale boasted one of the league’s best strikers in North Korean Jong Tae-se. Known as ‘the People’s Rooney’, the Nagoya native played at Todoroki Stadium for four and a half seasons before his 2010 World Cup performance prompted a move to Germany’s Bochum.
Tae-se’s team-mate, goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, also impressed in South Africa, becoming Japan’s surprise starter under coach Takeshi Okada and helping the Samurai Blue reach the Round of 16. One of the few Japanese goalkeepers to make the move abroad, the multilingual Kawashima joined Belgium’s Lierse in 2010 and currently plays for Standard Liege.
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