With Sera out with a minor sprain and Natsuki crouching up on his starting forward position so quickly that even potato chip trading cards are telling him as much, Sakai winds up being the one to dig him out of his rut. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise since reminding Sera of how a youngster such as himself did pretty much the same thing to the 31 year-old veteran Sakai was more or less what I had in mind. What I did enjoy though was how Sakai didn’t feel sorry for Sera at all, yet tactfully used that attitude to help lift his spirits. Of all people, Sakai was probably the last person who should be encouraging Sera, but it’s for that very reason that his words went to heart almost immediately. The fact that he’s aware of his shortcomings compared to the younger Sera (22) and Natsuki (26) and how he’s past his prime yet doesn’t let them sway his determination to see some playtime showed just how much of a veteran he is. In light of that, he deserves added respect for willing to pass some of that unwavering determination to Sera as a teammate.
Had it not been for Sakai, Sera would’ve likely fallen into a downward spiral of a slump that he probably wouldn’t be able to get out of — especially after seeing Natsuki score a convincing goal shortly after he was subbed in against the Urawa Red Stars. The only real blemish of Natsuki’s return was how Urawa scored first as soon as he took to the field. However, I still find Natsuki’s overly emotional personality a refreshing change from the somewhat gloomy one that has enveloped ETU for the past while. For one, he’s a bighearted family man who’s appreciative of all the stuff that has gone favorably for him, and he sure as hell knows how to celebrate like a forward. I just love the reaction he got out of Tatsumi and Matsu with his totally unexpected shot that completely handcuffed the opposing goal keeper, since it’s rare that anything surprises Tatsumi. Sera’s one was even better, though it was nice to see it didn’t waver his new-found determination to relinquish the starting forward position so easily. The real question now is exactly how the competition between Sera, Natsuki, and Sakai will affect the team as a whole.
I always figured friendly competition would be a good thing, but the way Katsura hinted at it seemed a bit ominous, as did Tatsumi’s serious look following their second tie in a row. The rest of the players and their fans are still on a high from their recent win streak though, so things don’t look too badly. The preview does have me wondering what’s coming up, but the sight of Dulfer would suggest a match against the highly ranked Osaka Gunners is in order. That will surely be a match to watch, as it should serve as a really good test to see how far ETU’s come along under Tatsumi.
Note: Murakoshi is 32 years-old — only three younger than Tatsumi — and shows no worse for wear as Mr. ETU. Midorikawa on the other hand is a 33-year-old goal keeper, while Tsubaki is the youngest starter at 20 years-old.