Although Rowdies President and General Manager Andrew Nestor would not reveal the terms of the deal, he did say it gave both the organization and Yoshitake an opportunity to benefit off his solid play this year.
“It was great timing for us to move him and will give us a better chance to re-sign our veteran and rising stars for next season,” Nestor said. “This is also a good opportunity for Yoshi and his family to move back home, where he began his pro career and where he will have a chance to finish it. It worked for all parties involved.”
Yokohama FC Hong Kong is a sister club of Yokohama FC in Japan, where Yoshitake began his professional career in 2000 and made 133 appearances in six seasons while scoring nine goals.
Yoshitake, who turns 31 next month, joined the Rowdies prior to the 2011 season and played in 40 matches during his Tampa Bay career. He scored seven goals and totaled five assists during his two seasons in Tampa Bay.
Nestor said Yokohama discussed Yoshi’s availability with his agent sometime during July and negotiations began over the past two weeks. Yoshi, who could either accept or decline the deal, struggled with the decision before eventually agreeing to the transfer.
“This was an extremely hard decision for me to make,” Yoshitake said. “I was torn apart, and if it was an offer from a different club, I would have turned it down. However, Yokohama FC is where I debuted professionally, and played for seven years before coming over to the US. And Yokohama FC Hong Kong is the first sister team in J. League history to start up in the Hong Kong League. I thought that now is my only chance to go back close to Japan, and also a great opportunity for me to demonstrate what I have gained in the United States. I expect that my performance will be a reflection of the Rowdies in that region.”
On Monday, Rowdies forward Luke Mulholland discussed the impact of Yoshitake’s transfer.
“Obviously, it would be great for the fans of Tampa Bay for us to be around for our entire career, but as a Division 2 player, you’re always looking to move up to become a D1 player,” Mulholland said. “It’s everyone’s dream to play at the highest level and you can use this league as a stepping stone to achieve those dreams. It’s a testament to the type of preparation (Rowdies coach Ricky Hill) has done for us as players to have Yoshi move up to a premier club.”
After a sub-par season in 2011 in which he tallied one goal and three assists, Yoshitake has scored six goals and assisted on three over 25 matches this year, ranking third on the team with 14 points. In June, he was named the NASL Player of the Month.
Yoshitake did not play in the Rowdies’ 3-3 tie with Carolina on Saturday. Starting in his place was Matt Clare, who played during Yoshitake’s absence due to the red card suspension two weeks ago.
The Rowdies managed to secure a tie after trailing 3-1, thanks in large part to Mulholland’s heroics. Mulholland scored once and assisted on two goals, including Takuya Yamada’s score in extra time towards the end of regulation.
Mulholland will be an integral piece in helping the Rowdies maintain their excellence moving forward. Tampa Bay is unbeaten in its last four matches and currently is tied in second place with Puerto Rico in the NASL standings.
“We are sad to see one of our members leave the club and it is morally right for us to allow Yoshitake to gain this opportunity to better himself,” Hill said. “Now it’s a chance for someone else to step up and make a name for himself. Whatever the situation is, they still need to earn their shirt and keep your shirt. Play well and keep it.”
Rowdies captain Mike Ambersley is a sure-bet to keep his shirt, as is Mulholland. Clare may have to continue proving himself over the next few matches, considering how well Fafa Picault and Evans Frimpong did when they entered the game as substitutes on Saturday.
“It’s pretty self-explanatory for them what’s at stake,” Hill said.