Most football fans around the world would be forgiven for not knowing a lot about Machida Zelvia (フットボールクラブ町田ゼルビア), a team founded in 1989 who have never stepped foot in Japan’s top division. All that will change next year with FC Machida Zelvia having secured promotion to the Meiji Yasuda J1 League just 10 years after languishing in the 4th tier of Japanese football (JFL).
Zelvia spent seven years in the second tier before finally finding the right formula this year, just 12 months removed from finishing 15th, and they’ll bring a certain flair to the top tier.
Machida is known as the “Brazil of Tokyo” due to their passion for the game and it’s largely thanks to the efforts of Brazilian striker Erik that Machida will be playing at the highest level next season. The former Palmeiras man joined Machida from Chinese club Changchun Yatai before the season, and his 18 goals have helped fire Zelvia to the top.
The team managed by Go Kuroda find themselves eight points clear at the top of the J2 league with just three games to play. They’ve scored more goals than any other team (73) and have conceded just 34 goals in 39 games. That balance between defense and attack will serve them well next year with the step-up in competition.
A lot of credit needs to go to Kuroda, who took charge of Machida in 2023 having been in charge of Aomori Yamada High School for 29 years. From high school coach to getting a team promoted for the very first time is a Cinderella story for Kuroda.
Machida Zelvia to pose a threat to J-League elite
Watching Machida this year you’d have seen a clear plan and system of how the team wanted to play, and Zelvia has always been a self-aware outfit with a loyal, dedicated and vocal following.
A few years ago President Fujita presented a rebranding plan that would add “Tokyo” to the team name, believing that this would introduce more marketing opportunities and attract more fans, but the existing fans protested and the proposal was quickly shelved.
Zelvia will bring a lot of color to the top flight next year and looking at how well they’re set up and how well they balance their attack with defense, they have the capability to cause issues for some of the J League elite clubs, like Vissel Kobe who are on course to secure their first J-League title.
You don’t imagine they’ll have the funds to strengthen their squad too much, and part of their success will likely come down to how well they work the loan market.
This year they had several key contributions from players on loan. The likes of Shota Fujio (藤尾 翔太) on loan from Cerezo Osaka scored eight goals this year, Shunta Araki (荒木 駿太) from Sagan Tosu scored six times and Renji Matsui (松井 蓮之), on loan from Kawasaki Frontale, played a key role at the base of midfield.
While the heart of the Zelvia side is rooted with Japanese players, their ability to spot and secure international talent like Erik, Australian Mitchell Duke and South Korean centre-back Min-kyu Jang, it will stand them in good stead for the challenges ahead.