Yohei Takaoka admits he’s feeling some pressure as he makes the jump to Major League Soccer.
Being a trailblazer is a weighty feat, after all.
“I think I am the first Japanese goalkeeper to come here in MLS,” Takaoka said on a video call on Friday after signing with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
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“I have to show how Japanese goalkeepers are good. I want to make the way for other Japanese goalkeepers.”
Takaoka, 26, joins the ’Caps on a two-year deal with a club option for the 2025 season. He’ll occupy an international roster spot pending receipt of his international transfer certificate and work permit.
He’s already joined the club in Palm Springs, Calif., where players are preparing for the upcoming MLS season.
“I think it’s going to be a good challenge for me,” Takaoka said, noting that the Whitecaps made him a “good offer with passion.”
“This is the first time to play out of Japan. I feel last year, I want to improve as a goalkeeper, as a person. And I need a new challenge.”
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The 5-foot-11 and 175-pound ’keeper from Yokohama comes to Vancouver from Japan’s J1 League, where he helped the Yokohama F. Marinos to a title last season with 13 clean sheets in 34 appearances. He was also named to the league’s best 11.
“We wanted to go for somebody who has played consistently on the highest level, who has competed for championships, who has won something. All of that is coming with Yohei,” Whitecaps sporting director Axel Schuster told reporters on Friday.
Takaoka will take over the ‘Caps’ No. 1 spot from 23-year-old Canadian Thomas Hasal, who battled injuries en route to a 6-9-2 record with four clean sheets for Vancouver last year.
The Whitecaps have two other emerging Canadian ’keepers in their system in 21-year-old Isaac Boehmer of Penticton, B.C., and Max Anchor, an 18-year-old from Burnaby, B.C.
Takaoka brings a level of experience to the club that the young Canadians don’t yet possess, Schuster said.
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“We want to get more security regarding consistency at the goalkeeper position,” he said.
“All of our young Canadian goalkeepers … they have shown flashes of their quality, they have shown that they are on the right way to become good MLS goalkeepers or to become the clear No. 1 on an MLS team. But we have no consistency in their performance. And that is a normal thing in a young goalkeeper.”
Between MLS action, CONCACAF Champions League, the new Leagues Cup and the Canadian Championship, the Whitecaps are expecting to play a lot of games this season, Schuster added, and “the Canadian young goalkeeper who is the most ready” will get their starts, too.
Takaoka is expected to see his first action with the ’Caps in Palm Springs on Saturday when they face Minnesota United in Vancouver’s final friendly of the pre-season.
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The Whitecaps will kick off the regular season in Vancouver against Real Salt Lake on Feb. 25.
The ’keeper said he’s been watching the league and believes the biggest difference between MLS and the J League is that in the J League, players focus on possession, while in MLS they’re more likely to attack directly in a bid to score.
Getting used to the differences quickly will be key, he added.
“I need (to) adapt (a) new style as soon as possible,” Takaoka said. “Little by little, day by day, I can adjust. It’s going to be OK and I want to show my skill, ability as a goalkeeper.”
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