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Japanese Players Take Role on Reign FC Comeback

Rumi Utsugi, center, waves her hand to fans in a pre-game ceremony on July 16 at the Memorial Staridum along with Naho Kawasumi, right. Photo by Mike Russell

By Yuka Takeda

The North American Post

Two Japanese female soccer players, Rumi Ustugi, 27, and Nahomi Kawasumi, 30, joined the Seattle Reign FC last month and are expected to take key roles in the team’s comeback to pursue playoff participation.

After having a month off during the season, the Seattle team will begin the rest of its season including two home games starting from this Saturday. As of Aug. 23, the team is placed in sixth looking to rise to top four to advance in the post-season playoff games.

Kawasumi, who transferred from the INAC Kobe Leonessa in Japan, played for the Reign FC in 2014, contributing nine goals and five assists to the team and was selected as the best eleven of the league.

“Head coach and team strategy did not change,” she said. “I want to do what I could contribute to the team when I was in this team two years ago.”

Kawasumi was a member of the Japanese national team to win the 2011 World Cup title and become runner-up in the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2015 World Cup. The Japanese team missed an Olympic appearance this year.

Laura Harvey, head coach of the Reign FC, puts importance on passing in soccer, compared to others who focus on physical ability. Kawasumi was listed as Harvey’s favorite for being a player with high quality passes.

“Japan has its own way and strategy,” Kawasumi said. “Systematic part is also important in Japanese soccer. It’s better if my play style is much broader, so I would like to put what I can learn here to use in my soccer life.”

Another Chance at Soccer Life

Utsugi transferred from Montpellier HSC in France, where she played 101 games and scored 19 goals. She is also the new captain of the Japanese national team.

“France is my second home,” she said. “Part of me would like to continue to play there, but more than that I would like to grab this chance as the second half of my soccer life. I also would like to know the play-style and culture of the United States, which is the top-ranked country of the women’s soccer.”

Utsugi marked a goal in her debut match on July 9 as Kawasumi scored two goals in her returning game on July 2.

“[Utsugi] had a terrific tournament and showed she can perform in high-pressure situations against some of the world’s most talented players and teams,” Harvey said.

According to Utsugi, Asian culture is not so integrated throughout Montpellier, located in Southern France. She said that Seattle is a very comfortable city to live because of the mature Japanese community. The Japanese player added that the teammates are welcoming and very friendly.

“It takes a lot of time to become a member of new team,” Utsugi said. “I will not rush but will do a little. I will do my best to be a member of this team. I would like to be a secret weapon as the source of points for team victory.”

“Through this experience, I would like to get my soccer life mature,” she added.

The Seattle sports community has recently added five Japanese professional athletes including Kawasumi and Utsugi of the Seattle Reign FC, Hisashi Iwakuma and Nori Aoki of the Seattle Mariners and Ramu Tokashiki of the Seattle Storm.

In soccer, the addition of the Japanese players may be a key aspect for the Reign FC to pursue playoff opportunities in the rest of its five games.

“I want to step over the top four line, play play-off and win the championship,” she said. “… I want to win every single game.”

Utsugi also enjoyed her new challenge in the U.S. soccer.

“I came to the completely new team, so I am trying as a new player and want to achieve things by one and one no matter what I came through in my career,” she said. “At the same time, I hope this will be a help for the Japanese soccer to be better.”

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N.A.P Staff
The North American Post is a community newspaper that celebrates Japanese culture in the Greater Seattle area. Founded by 1st generation Japanese-Americans in 1902, the publication is one of the oldest minority-owned newspapers in the region. Today, with bilingual articles in English and Japanese, the publication connects readers with diverse cultural backgrounds to Seattle’s Japanese community. Our articles include local news, event calendars, restaurant reviews, Japanese cooking recipes, community interviews, and more.