"It’s like home here": Japanese goalkeeper Takaoka loving Vancouver, thriving with Whitecaps

May 5 2023, 9:21 pm

Yohei Takaoka appears to have found a home in Vancouver. Adjusting to life off the pitch, while leading the Whitecaps on it, the 27-year-old Japanese goalkeeper has his club in position to potentially make franchise history this weekend.

The Whitecaps are on the verge of setting a new franchise record for the most MLS minutes played without conceding a goal. Vancouver is just 18 minutes away from making club history, as the team has not allowed a goal in the last 410 minutes of MLS play. 

The Whitecaps are riding a seven-game MLS unbeaten streak, as they prepare to take on Minnesota United FC Saturday night at BC Place, at 7:30 pm PT.

And Takaoka, who left the J-League in Japan to join the Whitecaps in February, is a big reason why.

The Yokohama native has tied a club record with four consecutive MLS clean sheets, putting him on pace to challenge the single-season franchise record for clean sheets (13), set by David Ousted in 2014 and 2015.

Takaoka is tied for third in MLS this season for most clean sheets, and among 21 keepers that have played over 700 minutes, he is third with a goal-against average of 0.78.

“I don’t feel like I’m abroad,” Takaoka said in an exclusive interview with Daily Hive this week. “I think it’s like home here. Everyone is kind to me, the weather is good. The nature and the water, it’s an amazing city. The people are so kind, that’s why I’m good to live here.”

Perhaps Vancouver’s sushi scene has helped. Takaoka said his teammates have helped him out with restaurant recommendations. 

“I feel like it’s the same,” Takaoka said. “Here the fish is fresh and it’s so good, there’s not so much of a difference to Japan.”

Takaoka has yet to try a Japadog, but says it’s on his list.

He says his favourite activity is spending time in the sauna. He enjoys going for walks, but said he quit playing golf because he isn’t very good at it.

Needless to say, the sport he’s focusing on is soccer.

“I want to be the top goalkeeper in MLS, but I feel that’s not enough. I can do more and I can improve on a lot of things as a goalkeeper.”

Whitecaps defender Tristan Blackmon has noticed how much maturity, stability, and calmness Takaoka has brought to the team this season.

“He’s got to be top-five nicest guys I’ve ever had in a locker room in my career,” Blackmon told Daily Hive. “Just real humble, down to earth, always smiling. He brings great vibes to the locker room.”

Takaoka has impressed his head coach also.

Vanni Sartini, who is able to converse with Takaoka in Japanese, says he has seen a strong improvement from the keeper. And as Vancouver looks to extend its 2-0-5 MLS run of form, Sartini believes there is a lot more to Takaoka’s game that’s waiting to blossom. 

“I speak Japanese with him mostly everyday,” Sartini said earlier this week.

“We haven’t seen the top (level) that he can reach. I think that he’s improving a lot. The first game was a little bit of a shock for him. A different way of playing, different league. The tactics that we used were a little different than what he was using in Japan. He’s doing very well, but I think he can do even better. Being even more commanding in the box, getting out and participating even more in the build up.”

The Whitecaps’ string of clean sheets is a positive sign for the club, but it’s not enough for Takaoka. Vancouver has two wins, two losses, and five draws in its first nine games, and Takaoka knows that fans have a higher expectation. He wants to deliver wins.

“It’s great,” Takaoka said when asked about the clean sheet success. “But we haven’t won in the last two games. If we win and we get a clean sheet, that’s a wonderful feeling. The next game against Minnesota we are going to win and keep a clean sheet.”

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