Moving overseas in just six years? The “Sakuragi Kanamichi of the soccer world” has amazing ambitions | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Moving overseas in just six years? The “Sakuragi Kanamichi of the soccer world” has amazing ambitions

Watch out for Chase Henri of Fukushima's Shoshi High School, who is scheduled to appear in the first round of the National High School Soccer Championship on March 29.

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Chase Henry (center) competes for a header in an international tournament. You can tell he’s a head or two above the rest just by jumping (Photo: Kouki Nagahama)

The National High School Soccer Championship Tournament is celebrating its 100th anniversary. In this tournament, which has become a tradition during the year-end and New Year holidays, there is one player who attracts a great deal of attention. It is Chase Henry, a defender from Fukushima Prefecture’s Shoshi High School.

Skipping five steps to represent Japan in the U22 tournament

Although he is only 17 years old, he was selected for the U-22 national team five years older than him, and he also participated in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers. He was entrusted with the traditional number 22 for the national team’s center backs, a number that had been carried by former Japan national team player Yuji Nakazawa (the original Bomberhead) and current Japan national team captain Maya Yoshida.

He made his first full appearance in the first match of the tournament against Cambodia, and played without fear of his seniors who play in the J-League and college soccer. He made a strong impact, using his height to create a chance to score a goal.

I was so nervous!

He laughed and said, “I was scared at that point. I forgot all about that!” He also showed a carefree attitude in the interviews, making the reporters, most of whom he had never met before, smile. This beloved character is another of his charms.

His career is one that I can’t think of any precedent for. As you can guess from his appearance and name, his father is not Japanese, but American. He was born in Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture, to a Japanese mother and immigrated to the United States at an early age. Because of this, he has very few memories of his childhood in Japan. However, he returned to Japan before entering junior high school.

At that time, Chase Henri was not yet a soccer player.

I was playing for fun, but not seriously. I played basketball a lot, though.

I was a freshman in high school when I first interviewed him, and I remember him smiling a little embarrassed. However, he enjoyed playing soccer for fun and chose to join the soccer club at the junior high school he entered. I went to practice with great enthusiasm, but the people around me were all experienced soccer players. I was definitely the worst at it,” he said, despairing at the difference between him and the beginners.

It seems that he had a glimpse of his outstanding physical ability from that time, but what was harder for him than Hanamichi Sakuragi of “SLAM DUNK”, who also started his club activities as a beginner (although he played basketball), was the language barrier.

Having lived in the U.S. and used English as his main language at home, he had a language barrier and was a beginner. He says, “I had a really hard time at first,” and even now, he laughs, “words come out more smoothly in English.” However, he gradually blossomed by demonstrating his positive mentality and “high absorption ability,” as all the coaches who taught him said.

He did not become a nationally famous player, but he became a secret player in Kanagawa Prefecture. He was approached by Fukushima’s Shoshi High School because he happened to catch the eye of the Fukushima junior high school team when they traveled to Kanto.

The powerful school, which attracts elite players from all over Japan, was another experience for Chase, who had been playing soccer for three years, but the Shoshi coaches highly evaluated his potential. The Shoshi coaches were very impressed with his potential, and re-trained him in kicking techniques, while also using him in games.

Photo: Akihiko Kawabata

A Certain Ability” that Prompted Chase Henri’s Amazing Growth

When veteran coach Masahiro Komuro saw Chase as a first-year player, he said, “I’m going to make him a member of the Japanese national team,” and he was gradually proven right. Coach Komuro described his student’s qualities as follows: “He doesn’t just say ‘hai hai,’ but if he doesn’t understand something, he immediately comes to ask. He listens to me honestly. He’s a kid who can try things out on his own and adopt what he thinks is good.

This ability to grow has also been demonstrated in the Japan national team, which gathers players of a higher level, and he surprised coach Koji Nakamura by saying, “Every time I go to the national team training camp, I come back better. He said, “At first, I was like, ‘The level is too high, I can’t keep up! At first, I was like, ‘I can’t keep up with you because you’re too high,’ but then I got better and better. Gradually, he was called up to the national team, and in October of this year, he was finally selected as a member of the U-22 national team, five years older than himself.

His dream is to become the best soccer player in the world,” he says, and he has a strong desire to go abroad. This year, he has participated in several training sessions with clubs in the Netherlands and Germany. Since he needs a period of quarantine after returning to Japan, it sometimes interferes with his club activities, but coach Nakamura allows it as long as it is for his own good.

Even if he has to miss important official games because of his participation in the national team, “I’ve been trying from the beginning to make sure that we can do without him this year. The other players just have to do their best. The results of his practice sessions were well-received, and he gained confidence, saying, “What I’ve done has worked. Next year, he is likely to leapfrog the J-League and go directly to the European stage.

In addition to his imposing physique of 187cm and 80kg, his “bomber head” hairstyle, which he insists on, attracts attention when he stands on the pitch. If you haven’t watched much soccer before, you might not know who he is, but you won’t want to miss this guy. The way he stands, the way he jumps higher than anyone else, and the way he catches up with the FWs who have broken away from him with amazing acceleration, you know he is a special athlete.

And when he gets up in front of the goal on a corner kick or free kick chance, the expectation of scoring is more than enough. As Coach Komuro laughs, “At the high school level, you can win just by jumping on the spot,” his overwhelming height is sure to excite the crowd.

If any of you readers have no particular high school to root for, but would like to see a high school soccer championship, choosing the venue of Shoshi High School would be a good idea. You might be able to be a witness that you can talk about for years to come.

Will we be able to see these smiling faces at the memorable 100th tournament (photo by Akihiko Kawabata)?
  • Reporting and writing by Akihiko Kawabata

    Born in 1979, Kawabata began his career as a journalist in 2002, focusing on the developmental age group. In addition to writing for El Gorasso, Soccer King, Footballista, Soccer Magazine, Gekisaka, Gizmodo, and other media, he also works as a freelance editor. His most recent book is "The 2050 World Cup Championship Plan" (Sol Media).

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