The Vancouver Whitecaps have their goalkeeper. Earlier today, the club announced the signing of Yohei Takaoka on a two-year contract with a club option for 2025 with the use of Targeted Allocation Money.
Takaoka, 26, is fresh off a stellar season with Yokohama F. Marinos, where he helped them in achieving their fifth J1 League title in 2022.
During that season, Takaoka started 34 matches and posted 13 clean sheets, the second most in the league. For his efforts, he was named to the 2022 J1 League Best XI.
🧤 With 13 clean sheets (second most in the 2022 J1 League) and many other amazing saves after 34 matches, the Japanese goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka has been a reliable shield for Yokohama F･Marinos to win their 5th J1 title in history. 📖🏆— J.LEAGUE Official (English) (@J_League_En) December 11, 2022
© J.LEAGUE – All Rights Reserved #JLEAGUE pic.twitter.com/5wwqGP2IKd
Whitecaps’ CEO and sporting director Axel Schuster said experience and a winning mentality were key in their signing of Takaoka.
“We wanted to go for somebody who has played consistently at the highest level, who has competed for championships, who has won something,” Schuster said. “All of that is coming with Yohei. And at the same time, somebody who can help the other guys we have in the group to learn from him and to grow.”
The 5-foot-11 goalkeeper had been on the radar for some time and was scouted by the club. When it became apparent that he was potentially available, the Whitecaps were prepared.
“He has a lot of very, very good skills,” Schuster said. “He’s probably, on the ball, one of the best goalkeepers I have seen in a long time. So, he will help us also in possession and build-up because he’s a player that can be used almost like an outfield player. He’s very quick in his movements. He’s agile, can jump very high. He reads the game well. And he has also a good leadership character, somebody who has a personality, who’s confident in what he’s doing.”
Takaoka got his professional start with Yokohama FC in the J2 League, the second division of Japanese football. Between 2014 and 2018, he played in 41 matches before earning himself a spot with J1 League side Sagan Tosu.
Originally a loan for the 2018 season, Takaoka had the move made permanent for 2019. Over the next two seasons, he started over 40 matches.
With the Mariners, he played three seasons. In his first, he only managed four starts. But by the second season, Takaoka was the designated no. 1, playing 33 matches, winning 15 clean sheets and helping his team to the runners-up position in the league.
For Takaoka’s part, he said Vancouver offered him something he had been looking for: a new challenge.
“I think it’s going to be a good challenge for me. This is the first to play out of Japan. I feel last year, I want to improve as a goalkeeper, as a person, and I need a new challenge. That’s why I’m here.”
He said Vancouver came to him with an offer of “passion,” and they won him over.
“I think I’m the first Japanese goalkeeper to come here in MLS. I have to show how Japanese goalkeepers are good. I want to make the way to other Japanese goalkeepers and to show my value in MLS.”
Takaoka will be available for the final preseason match on Saturday, Feb. 18, against Minnesota United FC.