Since returning from their training camp on the island of Guam, Robert Verbeek and his Omiya Ardija first team squad have taken a couple of days off and then set about making the final preparations for the 2007 J1 season. With an extra few days under their belts spent at the club's Shiki training ground developing ideas and rehearsing roles, the new team on Saturday take part in a further training match against J2 outfit Montedio Yamagata. This encounter gives local fans their first real opportunity to assess the potential of the squad and the changes brought about by the arrival of Verbeek. And while the details to have emerged from the Guam trip are inevitably sketchy, indications are that those changes are potentially very significant indeed.
Speculation is rife amongst supporters as to what the Squirrels' line-up will be in the opening league fixture at Gamba Osaka on 3rd March. But while all the discussions, chat and message board postings must for the time being remain just that - speculation - one thing is certain: that a player such as teenage defender Haruki Nishimura, for instance, would not have stood a chance of even being mentioned as a possible first-teamer under previous coach Toshiya Miura. Now, with Verbeek in charge, there are suggestions that he may end up partnering Leandro in the middle of the Ardija back line.
For Verbeek and his assistant Jun Nakamura have done a good job in wiping the slate clean and coming into their new environment with no preconceived ideas as to team selection, the Dutchman evidently keen to communicate his preferred way of playing to the squad and then pick the team best capable of executing that plan - whoever that might involve. And as well as the incoming players such as striker Enilton and central defender Leandro, that also means that squad members who had barely a look-in during the reign of Miura may now have the chance to impress, the Yamagata friendly being the next point in the calendar at which Verbeek's thinking will be made public.
The aforementioned Nishimura may be the most obvious one of those players, having been a Youth teamer in 2005, and it will be a key decision for Verbeek as to whether the youngster has done enough to earn the call-up ahead of Seiichiro Okuno and Yasunari Hiraoka. But Koji Ezumi will never have a better opportunity to make the light blue goalkeeping jersey his own at the expense of Hiroki Aratani, while at the side of defence Takuro Nishimura - who slipped down the pecking order in 2006 - and Terukazu Tanaka will surely put pressure on Yasuhiro Hato.
But there are question marks as far as the likely starting XI is concerned right the way through the team. Naoya Saeki moved to Omiya from Vissel Kobe following the 2005 campaign and was barely acknowledged by coach Miura before being loaned out to Avispa Fukuoka, and now he has the opportunity to dislodge the likes of Yoshiyuki Kobayashi from a central midfield role. Yosuke Shimada has returned to Omiya from a successful 2006 at Thespa Kusatsu with a full season of playing experience, while Hayato Hashimoto in the latter stages of last year finally emerged from the outer fringes of Toshiya Miura's squad as a midfield player of some quality and creativity.
But the pressure is particularly on for those players hoping to claim one of the two strikers' places that would appear to be on offer. All the evidence to date points to the quick, mobile Enilton as the likely main front player, with 2006 star performer Daigo Kobayashi in an advanced supporting role. This suggests that life could be extremely difficult for the more diminutive Kota Yoshihara and Naoto Sakurai, even if one or other of the bigger strikers - fans' favourite Hiroshi Morita and Manabu Wakabayashi - is able to feature as a substitute. There are now just two weeks to go until the big kick-off at Gamba. Who will be wearing those stylish new orange shirts? All Omiya Ardija supporters will have a better understanding of the possible answer to that question after Saturday.