Honolulu, Hawaii - From the minute he arrived in Hawaii, Japanese defender Kosuke Kimura knew that Thursday's match against Yokahama FC would be different than any he's played since becoming a professional in 2007. On this night, with family in the stands at Aloha Stadium, Kimura played against a Japanese team for the first time..
"In MLS we always hear the American or Canadian anthem before every game," he said following the match. "But the Japanese national anthem always played in my head, because I always think about Japan. So today was real special for me to listen to the Japanese national anthem before the game. It was definitely a boost."
Kimura's story is well know. He's the first Japanese player to play in Major League Soccer. He also might be the only Japanese player in the world who has never played professionally in Japan.
"Today was definitely a little different because I wanted to prove that I can play at their level, too," he said. "They have really good players, and former national team players on that team that I respect so much."
One of those players is 44-year-old Kazuyoshi Muiri, better known simply as 'Kazu.' After becoming a pro - and star - by playing in the Brazilian top flight, Kazu's returned to Japan for the J-League's inaugural year in 1993. The long-time Japanese national team forward was named the league's Most Valuable Player and also won the Asian Player of the Year award. He then went on to become the first Japanese player to play in the Italian Serie A, enhancing his place as arguably the first soccer legend from Japan.
On Thursday night, two days before his 45th birthday, Kazu entered the match against the Rapids in the second half.
"It was definitely amazing," Kimura said of being on the field with Kazu. "I talked to him after the game, and he told me he knew I've been playing in the U.S. He told me I was quick, and sharp, and played well. When he told me that, it was different than hearing that from other people. It was great and I was so happy."
So despite the preseason loss, for Kimura, the night ended on a high note.