Tall, lanky and possessing a deft touch with either foot, Gaku Lange was, literally and figuratively, “the straw that stirred the drink,” his father and coach Mark Lange said.
The two have made a dream pairing where Matthew C. Perry is concerned the last four years.
The last three of those seasons have ended with the Samurai hoisting the Far East Division II Tournament banner and another star on the crests of their jerseys. And Perry captured its first DODDS Japan tournament title as a bonus.
For his work, Gaku Lange has been named Stars and Stripes Pacific boys soccer Athlete of the Year for the second straight year.
Just the numbers alone are impressive enough. Following the opening week of the season in which the Samurai went 1-2-1 at the Western Japan Athletic Association tournament, the Samurai went 21-1-1 the rest of the way. Of Perry’s 98 goals, Gaku (51 goals, 25 assists) was involved in 76 of them.
“That’s large. That speaks volumes,” Mark Lange said.
Most of his goals came from the center-midfield position, and could be seen moving “all over the pitch” during matches, Mark Lange said. “He was the main guy, no question.”
Lange’s season and the Samurai’s drive for that third straight star and began with what was anything but an auspicious start. But that start wasn’t time for worry either, Mark Lange said.
The Samurai opened by falling 3-0 in the Western Japan Athletic Association Tournament semifinal to Canadian Academy’s A side, then losing 2-0 in the third-place match to Senri-Osaka International.
“They did not keep their initial goal” of beating CA, so “there was a lot of disappointment (but) nobody panicked,” Mark Lange said. “Looking back, I think it was what we needed, that we realized we had a lot of work to do. I think it was a good thing.”
Gaku Lange, in his role as team captain, made it clear to his teammates that such a start was not acceptable. Not for a team trying for its first DODDS Japan and third straight D-II titles.
Aside from his numbers, Lange the son brought to the table intangibles that one sometimes can’t coach, father said. Patience in working with younger players. Keeping emotions in check and putting the team first.
That stemmed, Mark Lange said, from a conversation he had with his son last year after the latter had become frustrated over some of his teammates’ level of play and took it out on them.
“You can’t talk to other players that way,” Mark Lange said he told his son after that episode, and soon after, change began taking root. The transformation into team leader was complete coming into this season.
“The biggest thing about him was his leadership ability, his maturity,” Mark Lange said. “He motivated other players. He’s going to be very difficult to replace.”
All-Far East boys soccer team: Calvin Barker, Justin Hill, Matthew C. Perry; Yuji Callahan, Kai Heckerman, Kadena; Imani Washington, Kubasaki; Kyle Smoker, Lawrence Yamaguchi, Christian Academy Japan; Brady Yoder, Nile C. Kinnick; Ben Cook, JoJo Byrnes, Zama; Manasseh Nartey, Humphreys.