Each year, Major League Soccer seems to grow and develop, looking to find a place and a standing within world football.
The lack of promotion and relegation, a bone of contention amongst many US soccer fans, might stop many of the European leagues acknowledging the division as one of strength, but that is the only thing holding it back.
Many new divisions have sprung up over the last 30-years or so, some not only becoming a success, but helping to drive soccer into the national consciousness, and help it spread throughout the country. A clear example of such a division is the J1-League in Japan.
Japan is not traditionally a behemoth in the soccer world. Their current top-flight division, the J1-League, only started in 1992 and despite a blaze of initial publicity, not least through the arrival of England legend Gary Lineker, it did not grab immediate traction.
However, with some matches attracting 40,000 fans, it is now a settled and thriving division enjoyed by a growing number of fans.
Fan culture is hugely important to the growth of any soccer league and Japan has perfect conditions for such development.
Expatbets outlines that sports wagering is legal in Japan, helping to drive the popularity of the sport amongst its fanbase.
A solid culture of wagering on games is often a driver for the wider passion for the game and forms a significant part of a fan’s experience. International success is also important, and the Samurai Blue have not disappointed in recent years.
They have been at every World Cup tournament since 1998, finishing in the last 16 on three occasions. They co-hosted the competition with South Korea in 2002, further strengthening the appeal amongst supporters.
That exposure has not only helped grow the game domestically but also helped players make a success of their careers abroad.
Some have even landed here on our own shores, turning out for Canada’s Major League Soccer sides.
So we are going to look at three Japanese players who have seen their career bring them to another rapidly expanding soccer league, our very own MLS.
Jun Marques Davidson
37-year-old Davidson made the transition from Japan to America in 2010, after spending time in the J1-League with Albirex Niigata, Vissel Kobe and Consadole Sapporo.
The midfielder later completed a switch to Carolina RailHawks in the now-defunct USSF D2 Pro League.
After a brief spell back home, he made the move to Vancouver Whitecaps for his only MLS stint.
He played 54 times in two seasons for the Whitecaps before leaving for the RailHawks once again, this time in the NASL. He saw his career out with Charlotte Independence in the USL.
The 26-year-old winger has been recognized by Japan at Under 17 level, but has never managed to make the step up to full international.
He has not appeared for any clubs in his home country though, instead spending his whole career in North America and Canada.
He appeared for Maryland University for several seasons before being snatched up by Toronto, where he has eight goals from 50 outings.
A goal against Atlanta in 2019 is described by The Globe and Mail as one of the fastest in TFC history.
He has also featured for Toronto II in the USL Championship and League One, scoring 11 times.
The Whitecaps might have had a disappointing 2019, finishing 23rd overall and being knocked out early in the Canadian Championship, but back in 2013 when Japanese star Kobayashi was present, they fared much better.
His goal in the 69th minute of the Canadian Championship Final against Montreal Impact looked to have secured the Whitecaps their first piece of silverware, only for Hassoun Camara to level and win the tie on away goals.
Kobayashi, who earned one full cap for his country whilst playing for Omiya Ardija, remained in the MLS after his Whitecaps stint, appearing for New England Revolution and winning the Eastern Conference in 2014.
He is still in the US, playing for Birmingham Legion in the USL Championship.