Give & Go: Crystal Palace's Shintaro Harada has an exclusive interview with Japanese defender Shintaro Harada.
By Allen Ramsey

The unique story of Shintaro Harada is probably not one most fans know well. The defender spent the last three seasons in USL 2 with Crystal Palace Baltimore after beginning his professional career in the J-League. 

The decision to come to the U.S. to play in a lower league may seem curious, but Harada made the best of it, and it actually helped him progress. He is now training with Crystal Palace Baltimore's sister club in the U.K. caught up with Harada for an exclusive interview to let the 29-year-old explain his story in his own words. How did you end up in Baltimore coming from the J-League? That seems like an odd move in terms of professional football.

Harada: Yeah, some people told me that my move to the US was strange. I understand why people told me that, because some Japanese often go to Europe to play straight from J.League. Japanese players rarely go to US to play. But for many Japanese players, going to Europe to play is very hard. 

The reason why I ended up there is because I was thinking that I wanted to play in a foreign country someday, from when I was a little. I was 26-years-old around that time, so the timing was great to move to the another country. Also, I was feeling unsatisfactory about playing with only Japanese players in J.League. I wanted to experience another style of football. So I decided to move to another country so I could play with foreigners.

I knew that US soccer was getting better, David Beckham was coming over to LA and MLS would be more exciting than before. So I decided to move to US then. I actually wanted to go to Europe to play, but for Japanese players, that’s very hard to do. But Crystal Palace in the US has connections to CPFC UK. So I went to Baltimore to get a tryout for CPUSA, and then I made the team there in February, 2007. How does soccer in the U.S. compare to the football you played in the J-League and even now in the U.K.? Was USL 2 a big step down in competition for you?

Harada: To come to the US was stepping down for me? I say, “No”. In order to play well in the US, I had to accommodate myself with US soccer. When I came to the US, I felt that US soccer was very dynamic, like football in England. They don’t like the casual pass so much. Soccer in the US is hitting the long balls to target man and going forward quickly, which is very exciting. When I was playing in Japan, I learned more about passing the ball around, keeping possession and so on.

 I felt a big difference between those styles. So I had to accommodate myself with US football. And all the teams in USL have very good players respectively, who are coming from Brazil, Mexico, South America, Africa, England, Scotland, France, Portugal, Ireland and so on. This league is composed of many nationalities. So I could learn many many things for my skills.

I actually felt that this was stepping up. Speaking English is also a very important thing. I liked to study English from when I was a little, so that was not big problem for me. But players who don’t  speak English so much can’t communicate with other players well. So in order to play well, they have to learn to speak English because players have to communicate with the other players. Even a great player wouldn’t be able to play if the player doesn’t communicate with the other players. That’s what I felt in US. How are things going in England with  Crystal Palace U.K.? How much of a step up in competition is the English game from the J-League and USL?

Harada: I’ve been in London for a month and a week and training with them everyday. Of course, Crystal Palace UK is a higher level than any teams in USL. I’m pleased to be able to play with them because that makes me a better player. J.League is also a high-level league. I think that Championship league is a high level in Europe. What do you think makes the difference as far as the level of play?

Harada: I feel that in order to play here, players have to be very strong physically. Most of players here are very tall and strong, everyone is very good in the air. I’m learning also about line height as I’m playing center back. Teams in England (as far as I can see) have very high defensive lines. That’s a big point to learn for me. Where would you like your career to go from here?

Harada: My goal as a player is to make the Japanese national team. In order to make the national team, I have to move up to higher level. So I want to move up. But I still loved to play for Crystal Palace USA because people in CPUSA are very nice and took care of me very well. Also, I like to live in Baltimore. That’s my home in US now.

My goal is also to improve myself as a person. I’m doing many things aside from football in  the US and England, learning traditions and customs, talking with people. That makes me happy and helps me improve.

Give & Go runs every other Thursday on U.S.A.

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