Amid reports of a major trade for USWNT defender Kelley O’Hara, the Washington Spirit have confirmed an acquisition on the other side of the field, signing Japanese international attacker Saori Takarada. Takarada, 20, joins the club from Cerezo Osaka Sakai Ladies, who finished fourth in the recently-completed Nadeshiko League season. According to the Spirit, her contract is for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
In a team press release, Spirit head coach Richie Burke said “Bringing another young international player of Saori’s quality to the Spirit for our 2021 season was a huge priority for our club and being able to get this deal done at this time of year has been absolutely brilliant. We can move ahead with our other plans, safe in the knowledge that we’ve added a tremendously talented player to our squad for the upcoming season.”
Takarada’s profile in terms of her position is very similar to the Spirit’s other Japanese international, Kumi Yokoyama. Both players have spent time on the left wing or up front, though at the club level it appears that Takarada spent more time in the midfield than up front. This past season, she scored 2 goals in 18 appearances for Cerezo, though previously she had rung up a slew of goals in helping her club gain promotion to the top flight back in 2019. According to Cerezo’s website, she joins the Spirit having scored 56 goals in 143 career games with the club.
On the international level, Takarada climbed the rungs of the youth national team ladder, becoming an increasingly hyped prospect along the way. She won the Silver Ball (for second-best player) and the Bronze Boot (for finishing in third in the scoring table) at the 2018 Under-20 World Cup. Japan won that tournament, with Takarada scoring what turned out to be the winning goal in the final against Spain. That same year, she won the 2018 Asian Football Confederation’s Young Footballer of the Year award.
Last summer, Takarada broke through with the senior national team, appearing as a substitute in three of their four World Cup matches.
With the Spirit (who have now used three of their four international spots), Takarada could end up in a number of positions. With Burke looking at Ashley Sanchez in a central role during the Fall Series, the most straightforward option would be playing her as a left forward. However, depending on the outcome of the Spirit’s trade for O’Hara (first reported by The Washington Post’s Steve Goff), there may be an opening elsewhere on the front line. Washington was very close to trading Ashley Hatch to Utah in October, with one source going so far as to tell Black and Red United that the deal was over the line before it was scuttled the next day.
However, with the Spirit recently signing Hatch to a two-year contract (with an option for a third), it is uncertain if she is still involved in the trade, or indeed if the Spirit will trade any players to Utah Royals FC to complete the deal.