Soccer: Kobe goalkeeper Yamashita wins inaugural WE League MVP

Goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita won the WE League MVP on Tuesday after helping INAC Kobe Leonessa to claim Japan's first women's professional league title.

The 26-year-old Japan international kept eight straight clean sheets to begin the campaign and conceded just seven goals in 19 appearances as they comfortably secured the title, winning 16 of 20 games.

"There aren't many kids wanting to be a goalkeeper when I help out schools. This proved goalkeepers also get rated," she said at the WE League Awards. "Hopefully, fans continue to keep their eyes on goalkeepers."

No keeper was named the MVP during the era of the previous top division, the amateur Nadeshiko League, while former Japan keeper Seigo Narazaki is the only winner of the men's J-League MVP after he helped Nagoya Grampus win their first league title in 2010.

"There were shots I thought were going in, and saving them gave me the sense of progress," said Yamashita. "I want to display performances at a level higher (next season)."

Urawa Reds and Japan forward Yuika Sugasawa was the top scorer with 14 goals after they finished second, eight points behind Kobe.

Also present at the ceremony, Japan's 2011 World Cup-winning captain Homare Sawa hoped the league can steer the national team back to where they once were.

"I want to help the development of women's football as I dream of it being loved by the society, supported by many fans, the pro league prospering and Nadeshiko Japan returning to the top of the world," she said.

© Kyodo News