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Seoul loss and Incheon next

A season high 9,123 people were at the Asiad last Sunday to see Busan fall 1-0 to FC Seoul. A not totally surprising result, but a couple of the statistics from the match were (more on that in a bit). The result leaves Busan rooted to the (almost) bottom of the table, and very much in the relegation picture. However, 7th-10th place are all level of 12 points, so a win next weekend against Incheon would see Busan reel in some of the other relegation contenders right quick.

Who: Busan IPark vs Incheon United
When: Sunday, May 16, 2015, 2pm
Where: Asiad Main Stadium, Busan, South Korea
Why: K League Classic, Round 11
Watching: Busan MBC (TV)/Naver, Daum, Afreeca (Stream)

Screenshot taken from www.busanipark.com

Seoul misery

Sunday felt very summer-like in Busan. Quite warm, sunny, a bit sticky. Normally those are (relatively) good things, but it probably didn't help many peoples' moods as they waited in line to park at the Asiad and then again waited in line to get a ticket for the game. Both were terrible and didn't put a good first impression on any newcomer attendees. I can't explain the traffic jam at the Asiad parking garage (maybe a lot of weddings going on near the stadium?), but it was terrible. Then you climbed the steps to the entrance and are greeted with a ticket line that was the longest I've ever seen for a Busan IPark game. The reasons for the long line at the gate are more explainable and I'll come back to it in a bit. But we should talk about the game a bit.

Yoon Sung-hyo again did a mini-reshuffle of his line up. Somewhat surprisingly both Brazilian attackers Weslley and Bergson were absent from the squad completely. The YooJi-brothers (as I like to call them) - Yoo Ji-hoon and Yoo Ji-no - were back at the wing back spots. While I appreciate the need for rotation and experimenting, it does irritate me a bit the way Yoon does his chopping and changing. It frequently feels like there's little rhyme or reason to it, and that it disrupts any potential chemistry building. Perhaps there are non-performance reasons? Poor training, illness/injury, discipline, things like that. 

The first half was dull and uneventful. A "cagey" match that featured a lot of running and work rate and little skill and finesse. Neither team created any really meaningful chances, and 0-0 was a rather predictable scoreline. The second half was a bit better, as Seoul went looking for something on the break, and eventually got their lone goal through Ko Myeong-jin after a Cha Du-ri cross. 1-0 and all three points to the visitors from the capital.

In the intro to this post I mentioned stats. The K League gives out an "official" rating after every match. Quite tellingly, of the 22 combined starters only four received a rating higher than 6.0 (the baseline). Han Ji-ho (Busan), Cha Du-ri and Ko Yo-han (both Seoul) got 6.5s while goalscorer Ko Myeong-jin got a 7.0. The other 18 starters all got 6.0s. Nothing bad, nothing really good, just solid. And that sums the game and both teams' performances. Solid, but not really bad or good.

Two other stats that jumped out at me. First, that Busan outshot Seoul by a bit, 12-5 in total and 5-3 on target. Busan rarely outshoots opponents, simply because they are a more defensive side, and they generally are more selective about their shots (only decent chances, few long-range/speculative ones). The stat is also of note because of how low Seoul's number is. Just five shots all game? A further indicator of their offensive woes this year. 

The final stat is the possession number. Busan actually had the higher possession percentage, 54%-46%. Not much, but given the two are usually at opposite ends of the possession statistic in overall terms it's quite a surprise. Seoul is usually at the top of the league average (roughly 55%) while Busan is at the very bottom (roughly 45%). While I wouldn't take too much from this, it does show that Seoul made a very conscious effort to sit deep, soak up the pressure, and then attack a bit quicker. Seoul's normal style involves a lot of 'tiki-taka' (Guardiola's definition - lot of passes with no real purpose, often amongst the defense), which drives their possession percentage up a bit.

All in all a not terribly surprising result, but a disappointing one nonetheless. 

Incheon

For most people, Incheon is known because of one thing - Incheon International Airport. It's the airport which virtually all international travel, both to and from Korea, goes through. Gimhae (the airport that services Busan) is attempting to get a bigger slice of the pie, but it's international routes are basically a few to Japan and a few to relatively near southeast Asia. If you really want to go abroad from Korea, Incheon is where you fly in and out of. In that sense, it's a bit of a pity really. Few people actually stop and see the city itself as they will usually just fly in and jump on the subway or bus into Seoul. 

That being said, I've only been to Incheon-proper once, and that was mainly to visit the Chinatown there. Due to it's geographical proximity, Incheon has the largest Chinatown in all of Korea. It's also the birthplace of one of Korea's most popular meals/junk food - 짜장면 (jjajangmyeon) or black bean noodles. 

와! 맛있겠다!

So, what exactly is jjajangmyeon? Well it's noodles that are served with a black bean sauce that usually has some ground beef and onions in it. Some restaurants serve it with seafood instead of beef. Usually there are some sliced cucumber on top and always eaten with danmooji (단무지) yellow, sliced picked radish. It doesn't look like much, and it's probably not everyone's cup of tea, but I've grown to really like it. If you become a hardcore fan of the stuff, there is even a jjajangmyeon museum in the Incheon Chinatown.

If you're not into jjajangmyeon or Chinatown, there is more to Incheon than that of course. Incheon, according to Google, has a population of 2.5 million. Which makes it one of Korea's larger cities, and as such it looks like many of the other sizable cities, and broadly speaking you'll find basically the same things: large concrete buildings, noraebangs, bars, restaurants, chain stores, and sports teams. 

Incheon United was born in 2003 mainly because of the construction of the Munhak Stadium in Incheon for the 2002 World Cup. The stadium hosted three World Cup matches including Korea's 1-0 win over Portugal in the group stages which had that Park Ji-sung goal. But in order for the stadium to be built there, there had to be someone there to use it afterwards. So Incheon mayor Ahn Sang-soo began the process of putting the team together. Despite the name, Incheon is one of Korea's "citizen clubs" where fans are shareholders/owners (in reality though the club is owned by the city with the mayor as the de facto president). 

The club got off to bang as they finished their second season as league runner up, and averaged over 24K spectators per game. Things looked bright for Incheon, but as the years went on a slow process of decline started to emerge. As with all the citizen clubs that rely heavily on outside sponsorship and city/provincial government aid (tax money), Incheon couldn't really afford to keep up with the bigger chaebol owned teams. Players didn't stay long, and the team slid down the table. These days Incheon has become a sort of feeder club for Jeonbuk as the green giants have made it a habit of picking off Incheon's better players every offseason.

Things looked like they might be very bad for Incheon in 2015. Midway through the 2014 season, the city was in a terrible financial situation due to Korea's struggling economy and the coming Asian Games to be held in Incheon. The club admitted it was late in paying it's staff, and there were reports that the mayor might force Incheon to be relegated to the 2nd division K League Challenge just to help ease the financial burden on the city and team. In the end, it didn't come close to happening, but the thought was frightening enough for supporters and the team.

Many, myself included, thought Incheon would very much be in the relegation dogfight this season. New coach, lost many players like Moon Sang-yoon, Nam Jae-joon, Park Tae-min, and limited ability to reinforce. Seemed like a bad recipe, yet Incheon has done quite well thus far. The club pulled off a minor coup in securing the signature of former Jeonbuk and Daejeon forward Kevin Oris, and new boss Kim Do-hoon has managed to make the team well organized and difficult to break down.


Mini-prediction

A draw seems the most likely result. Neither side are particularly free scoring (Incheon 9 goals, Busan 8 goals), so a 0-0 or 1-1 result seems fairly likely. Either could snatch a narrow win, but it doesn't seem like that kind of game to me (gut instinct, which is often wrong though...).

If you do things right, they will come... But then be ready please!

Earlier, I mentioned the terrible lines to get to the Busan-Seoul game. Credit to Busan, this year they are making a bigger attempt at getting fans to come to the games, and it's working to an extent (attendance is averaging a touch over 5,000, which is an increase from last season). They brought in cheerleaders - including the famous Park Gi-ryang, offered discounts for advance ticket purchases, fan signings, free admission (sometimes) for kids, increased social media/advertising, and so on. 

Photo courtesy of busanipark.com


The problem is if there is a significant increase in attendance, the club doesn't really seem ready for it. Sunday's attendance of 9,123 is significantly over the average, but the opening day attendance was basically the same. Yet the lines and wait to get into the stadium were nowhere near as bad then. Why? Possibly because of a few changes they've made recently this season.
  1. Less ticket personnel - Usually there are 4-6 lines for ticket purchases day of, that's still usually the case, but I've noticed it's often more like 2-3 lines actually open. Usually not a problem, but if there's a sudden spike like last weekend it is.
  2. Closure of 2nd floor - The Asiad is huge. It seats roughly 56K people. Only Seoul World Cup Stadium seats more in the top flight. The Asiad is also a general athletic stadium (meaning it has a running track around the pitch). In order to get people closer to the pitch they built a stand inside the stadium. This isn't new, but this year they've blocked off access to the 2nd floor seats. Not usually a problem, but again when there's a spike it becomes one. You can't sit behind the stand in the normal seats because you can't see. If you sit on the other side, you can only sit in the crap seats (by the corner flags) because the center area is for VIPs and special guests. Also, it's in the normal seating so it's far away from the pitch. Yuck. In past years you could just go upstairs, far away from the pitch yes, but since it's higher you can get a pretty clear view of everything.
  3.  Changing of seating assignments - It used to be you bought your ticket, went inside and sat wherever you want. The club has made some changes to mimic what you find at Korean baseball games. Reserved seating for certain ticket prices and such. Not a big deal, but when it's done suddenly and people are not well informed it causes problems. 
Hopefully the club learns from last Sunday, and this Sunday is not quite the sh*t show it was last time. Beyond that, it's pleasing to see the club trying to do more to enhance the fan experience, and I hope they continue to do so in the future!

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