Melbourne City has announced the acquisition of 28-year-old Japanese midfielder Tsubasa Endoh on a six-month contract.
The much-anticipated signing, which had first been hinted at during City’s January 23 clash against Central Coast Mariners, will serve as an important squad reinforcement as our inaugural Asian Champions League campaign draws closer.
A Japanese youth international, Endoh had previously spent his entire senior career at MLS side Toronto FC and its reserves side Toronto FC II.
The versatile midfielder, who can also play across the front three, spent his early developmental years in the Japanese Football Association academy in Fukushima, but was forced to move to the United States following the infamous 2011 earthquake there.
Endoh’s career with the Canadian MLS franchise was certainly a tale of persistence – one that certainly dispels the myth of linear player development – where things didn’t always work out. After being selected at ninth overall in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, Endoh was without a club by the end of the 2017 season, despite being a part of a Supporters Shield- and MLS Cup-winning squad. He trialled for a month with Belgian second tier side KFCO Beerschot Wilrijk, but wasn’t offered a contract and returned to Canada in what he described as “the worst time ever for me, in my entire life.”
Initially not offered a contract with the senior team upon his return to Toronto, Endoh eventually received a lifeline with the reserves and forced his way back into the senior setup thanks to strong performances in the lower tiers of U.S football. Ultimately, Endoh wound up playing his best football for Toronto at 26 and 27, having initially signed at 22 – he played 14, 13 and 11 games in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons, most recently finishing the latter with one goal and one assist.
Onto his playing style now, it’s interesting that Michael Zappone noted during that Central Coast game that we’d be signing an attacking midfielder, as, though Endoh can play in the No. 10 role, he’s primarily operated as a right-winger throughout his career, occasionally turning out on the left or as a shadow striker.
Perhaps unsurprising for a Japanese Football Association academy product, Endoh is renowned for his technical ability after “blowing every other player out of the water” with his fleet-footed, tricky dribbling in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft.
Though reportedly not the fastest for a winger, Endoh compensates both on the ball with intelligent decision making and off the ball with his non-stop running to occupy opposition defences and harry ball-carriers – a characteristic that should make him a good fit for City’s press-heavy system.
Communicating within this system, and adapting to life in Australia generally, should be relatively straightforward for Endoh, who speaks English as a result of his time in the U.S – though it took years of dedicated study given he couldn’t speak a word upon his arrival in 2011.
The club’s acquisition of Endoh is a difficult one to read too much into; the player himself is very much a curious case. The now 28-year-old must be one of very few who have failed a trial (in their mid-20s) at a club of a far lower pedigree than the one they’ve gone on to succeed at at a later age – and Toronto’s initial release of Endoh only complicates that narrative.
The role that City’s new Japanese signing fulfils both on the pitch (winger? #10? #8?) and in the squad (starter? – where?, positional competition?, versatile depth option?) remains to be seen.