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Yohei Takaoka: Deep Dive

F.C.Tokyo v Yokohama F・Marinos - J.LEAGUE Meiji Yasuda J1 Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

The Vancouver Whitecaps are reportedly finalizing a deal for Japanese goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka (26), currently of the Yokohama Marinos. In fact, Yokohama has put out a statement saying that he is going abroad to complete negotiations. So we can be pretty confident this one is happening. According to fbref, the Whitecaps had the worst-performing goalkeeper corps in the league last season, conceding almost 11 more goals than expected. So adding a top goalkeeper to the side could be a significant swing in their favour. Is Takaoka that guy? Let’s discuss.

Before we get into any specifics about what to expect from Takaoka let’s discuss some suitable benchmarks for the ‘Caps’ #1 keeper. I have made the point that the moment for the team to win something with this core is now (or at least in the next two-three years). So let’s take a look at the shot-stopping ability of past MLS cup and shield winners. Somewhat surprisingly, it doesn’t seem like anything all that crazy is required. Since 2013 the average MLS cup-winning goalkeeper is pretty much average on goals saved above expected. Goalkeepers who won the MLS shield were slightly better but were only saving a goal or two above expected throughout the season. Partially this can be explained by team quality. When goalkeepers have a lot of goals saved above expected it is usually because they are stopping a lot of penalties and 1v1s. If you are giving up a lot of those you probably aren’t going anywhere anytime soon no matter how good your keeper is. Basically, as long as you have the horses, a keeper who can be consistently average is perfectly fine. The absolute best keeper in any given season usually saves around 10 goals above expected. But goalkeeper numbers also tend to fluctuate quite a bit from year to year. Consider, for example, the career of Andre Blake, one of the most consistently successful keepers in the league. Here are his goals saved above/below expected per game in MLS since 2016.

Data via American Soccer Analysis

As you can see, even arguably the best keeper in the league can have some big peaks and valleys. So signing a keeper is not as simple as just sorting the table by goals prevented/90 over the past year and snagging the guy at the top. Because there is no guarantee that a single huge season can be repeated. You have to look at a long period of time to really be sure.

This brings us to Yohei Takaoka, a guy who has consistently been fine for pretty much his entire career. Here are his goals saved above/below expected over his four seasons in the J-League.

Data via Wyscout

As you can see, he has very consistently been around the average. Sometimes he’s up a bit and sometimes he’s down a bit but (so far) it has never swung too wildly in one direction or the other. So he probably isn’t going to drag a mediocre team to win an MLS Cup but you can rely on him to not be an anchor.

This might not sound that exciting in a vacuum but Vancouver’s goalkeepers were a major anchor last season. According to Instat’s model (the one used by fbref), Vancouver’s goalkeeper corps conceded almost 11 more goals than expected. Keep in mind this is post-shot expected goals so the model takes into account things like the placement of the shot as well as where the shot was taken from. So even someone who was only average would make a very significant difference. Takaoka has four seasons of doing that in a comparable league so I see no reason to believe he can’t do it in Vancouver.

Now, Takaoka is a bit on the small side for a goalkeeper at 5’11. This has generated some concern online. But I think the fact that we have over 110 J1 matches and over 180 professional games to look at means this probably isn’t a serious concern. Maybe his height is what prevents him from making it to one of the top five leagues but for Vancouver’s purposes, it’s not a big problem. Here is a highlights package from the J-League celebrating Takaoka for being named in the team of the season.

So, Takaoka can stop shots at an acceptable level. But what about the other areas of goalkeeping? Well, all of Yokohama Marinos’s Asian Champions League games are on YouTube (at least they are in New Zealand). So I was able to watch him play and make some assessments.

The first thing you wonder about with a small goalkeeper is his ability to handle crosses. I have to say, this is one area where Takaoka is probably a downgrade on Hasal. Takaoka stays rooted to his line most of the time. This didn’t really lead to any serious problems in the games I watched but there were certainly times when I could imagine past Whitecaps goalkeepers coming out to snuff out the danger.

But one area that Takaoka really distinguishes himself from any goalkeeper Vancouver has had in the MLS era is how comfortable he is with having the ball at his feet. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that he was coming out to the halfway line to be a part of Yokohama’s build-up. When the opposition was pinned back in their own end he would be up between (and slightly behind) the centre-backs providing an option to recycle possession. He was also not even slightly phased by being put under pressure. There were lots of times when he deftly turned to one side and played a short pass to get out of trouble. Now, Yokohama is a possession dominant team that strangles the life out of their opponents by passing them to death. The Whitecaps are not that. So who knows how this might translate? But he should be able to give Vancouver another dynamic in the build-up phase.


I like this quite a lot. Takaoka gives Vancouver a reliable shot-stopper, which is something they have not had since the departure of Crepeau. There has been some kvetching about using an international slot on a goalkeeper but if he can help the Whitecaps concede 10 fewer goals (or even more than that) then I don’t know how you can say that isn’t worth it. I do kind of doubt he will reach Andre Blake levels in MLS, and his ability to deal with crosses is a slight concern. But even with those caveats, I think this is probably the single most impactful signing Vancouver has made this offseason in terms of points gained.