Chivas USA sign former Japanese national team defender, World Cup veteran Akira Kaji

Japanese defender Akira Kaji

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Chivas USA announced on Tuesday that the club has signed Japanese international Akira Kaji from J-League Division 1 side Gamba Osaka, where the defender spent the majority of his professional career.

The former Japanese national team right back and World Cup veteran will be eligible to make his Major League Soccer debut once the international transfer window opens on July 8, and pending receipt of his International Transfer Certificate and P1-Visa.

“Akira is a very experienced player who is going to help us solidify our back four,” Chivas USA head coach Wilmer Cabrera said in a statement. “He brings World Cup experience along with an impressive career in a league that is very strong, athletic, competitive and that has a very fast pace.

"He is a very technical and smart player capable of not only defending but also distributing and possessing the ball when going forward. We are very happy to have Akira join Chivas USA, as his addition will strengthen our team in all aspects.”

Kaji made his professional debut in the J-League’s top division with Cerezo Osaka on July 25, 1998. Two seasons later, the defender had a brief stint with Oita Trinita of the Second Division, before returning to Division 1 with FC Tokyo in 2002.

Two years into his stint with the country’s capital team, Kaji celebrated his first championship by scoring the winning penalty kick against Urawa Red Diamonds for the J-League Cup trophy.

In 2006, the Minamiawaji native signed with Gamba Osaka, where his 39 appearances and two goals earned him a spot on the J-League Best XI. Since then he continued to be an undisputed regular with the club, registering a total of 225 appearances.

At the international level, Kaji moved up through Japan’s national youth ranks and was part of the squad that finished runner-up in the 1999 FIFA World Cup Youth Championship at age 19. Five years later, the defender was called up to the Senior Squad, earning his first cap on Oct. 8, 2003 in a friendly against Tunisia.

Since then, Kaji recorded 64 caps and competed in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, as well as the 2003 and 2005 Confederations Cup. Additionally, Kaji started in all six matches to help Japan conquer the 2004 AFC Asian Cup.