Japan Football League (JFL) sides Machida Zelvia and Matsumoto Yamaga will become the 39th and 40th teams to join the J-League, fulfilling a long-held goal of expanding the country's second division to 22 teams.
The decision was announced after the league's board of directors met at the JFA House in central Tokyo on Monday, December 12. The announcement itself was considered a formality after both clubs guaranteed a top-four finish in the JFL which, in addition to earning J-League Associate Membership status, is one of the key criteria required to join the league.
Following the expansion, J2 will adapt a 42-round home-and-away schedule in 2012. The J-League and JFL are also working to develop a system of promotion and relegation between the two leagues, with the creation of a third division ('J3') also a possibility.
Western Tokyo's Machida Zelvia, founded as FC Machida in 1989, earned promotion to the JFL in 2008. Despite placing third last year under Naoki Soma (who now manages J-League Division 1 side Kawasaki Frontale), the J-League declined to admit Zelvia after the team's home stadium, Machida Municipal Athletic Stadium, didn't meet standards. The stadium has since installed enough seats to meet the J2 requirement of 10,000 in addition to adding lighting equipment for night matches.
The league has requested that Zelvia turn a profit in 2012 as a condition for their promotion after the club has failed to end any of their seasons in the black. Current manager Ranko Popovic, who lead the team to another third-place finish this year, has been tied to a move to first division side FC Tokyo.
Matsumoto Yamaga are the first team from Nagano Prefecture to join the league after spending just two years in the JFL. In addition to having made waves in the nation-wide Emperor's Cup tournament by regularly upsetting J-League teams such as Shonan Bellmare and Urawa Reds, Yamaga gained attention this year after signing former Yokohama F. Marinos and Japanese national team star Naoki Matsuda. Matsuda died suddenly of heart failure in August during a practice session.
The team shattered JFL attendance records this season with just under 7,500 per match, representing a 50% spike and placing 24th among Japanese clubs. After placing seventh in their first JFL season last year, Yamaga finished fourth this season despite a mid-season slump and the loss of one fixture following the March 11 natural disasters. They will face Marinos this weekend in the fourth round of this year's Emperor's Cup after defeating J-League sides Yokohama FC and Albirex Niigata.