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How Things have Changed: Now Which Choi Yong-soo/Soo-yong Would You Choose?

With the exception of Suwon playing against Seongnam, the K-League Classic takes a break.  The season is close to the halfway point, so now is a good time to look at how Seoul have fared this year.  To state the obvious, it has been quite up and down.  However, rather than cover the AFC Champion's League, which has also been quite up and down, I will focus on Seoul's league play this year.

First, let's look at the results and league position.  I found the results via soccerway.com and league position via modernseoul.org.

Date               Home Team          Result          Away Team          League Position
03/08/15           Ulsan                   2-0                Seoul                         12th
03/14/15           Seoul                   1-2                Jeonbuk                     12th
03/22/15           Pohang                2-1                Seoul                         11th
04/04/15           Seoul                   1-0                Jeju                            10th
04/12/15           Incheon                1-1               Seoul                          10th
04/15/15           Seoul                   1-0                Daejeon                        8th
04/18/15           Suwon                  5-1                Seoul                            9th

As you can see, Seoul's season did not start out so well.  They won two, but lost four, and drew only once.  They had scored six goals, but conceded twelve in their their first seven.  They were horrible both on offense and defense.  Therefore, I do not think I am wrong in saying that it was a team bereft of confidence and ideas

It was right around the time that Seoul had lost to Suwon 5-1 that I wrote a post that hypothetically speculating about which Choi Soo-yong would the fans choose.  In one corner was Seoul's beleaguered coach, Choi Yong-soo, and in the other was Girl's Generation singer Choi Soo-young.  I speculated that it would be the attractive one that could sing.  Of course now that Seoul have found their form that is no longer the case.

However, they were really execrable during that time.  Why were they so woeful though?  Was it their normal difficulties that they had experienced in 2013 and 2014 at each season's start?

I do think some of it is the fact that Seoul have not done well early on, with the exception 2012.  Seoul's start in 2013 was awful, but I felt the results were mostly bad luck rather than poor play.   In 2014, Seoul also started terribly again, but I put that down to the team gelling without their core of Dejan, Adi, Ha Dae-sung, and doing without an injured Molina.  Losing one's core would affect any team.  This year though, I did not feel like that was a legitimate excuse.  The team had been together for a year and I expected they would do better both offensively and defensively.

Different goalie, but same result.
Unfortunately, that was not the case this year.  Seoul traveled to Ulsan for their first game and they were thumped.  The first goal was off of a Tarta cross that the defense did not clear and the second came off of a turnover as Djeperov scored on a tap-in after putting his teammate through.  The defense was beaten quite easily and Kim Yong-dae did not seem to hustle back as it was the easiest of goals for Djeperov to score.  I felt as though this game was symbolic of Seoul's early season struggles.

They played well in the first half against Jeonbuk, but were outclassed in the second.  They traveled to Pohang and the first goal they allowed was a ball over the top to beat the defense.  The second was off of sloppy midfield play as the ball was stolen by Pohang and subsequently put into the back of the net.  Molina and Yun Ju-tae combined nicely to score though.

Seoul beat Jeju for their first win of the year, but then drew against an average Incheon team.  After the Jeju win, I believed that this would be the catalyst to go on a run up the table.  However, I was wrong.  They were lucky to get away with a point that game.

Then came Seoul's nadir.  I have never seen fans boo a team like that in Korea.  Someone even threw a rubber chicken on the field.  The trip home took forever because traffic is a nightmare after every super match.  It was just bad day all around.

Now let's look at the last eight league games.

Date               Home Team          Result          Away Team          League Position
04/26/15          Gwangju                1-1                Seoul                            9th
05/02/15          Seoul                     1-1                Seongnam                   10th
05/10/15          Busan                     0-1                Seoul                          10th
05/16/15          Seoul                     3-0                Jeonnam                        7th
05/31/15          Seoul                     0-0                Ulsan                           10th
06/03/15          Seoul                     1-0                Incheon                          6th
06/06/15          Jeonbuk                 1-2                Seoul                             ???
06/10/15          Daejeon                 1-2                Seoul                             2nd

As one can see, Seoul has been quite good since that lost to Suwon.  They have not lost in eight games, sit in second place on the table, and are only seven points behind Jeonbuk with a lot of games left to play.  Granted, they are only one point ahead of Suwon, but it has been quite a turn around since April 18th.

However, the recovery has not been without it bumps.  There were the draws against Gwangju and Seongnam, each time Seoul was outplayed in those games and lucky to come away with a point.  They beat Busan on the road, but again, were lucky to hang on for the win.  In that game, they had a couple of good moments offensively and Koh Myong-jin's goal was great.  It came via a low cross from Cha Du-ri, but it was the  ball into space by Go Yo-han that put Cha Du-ri through and allowed him to cross.  It was moments like these that Seoul needed more of- good movement, good passing, and a good goal.

Seoul beat Jeonnam at home 3-0.  It was the first league game they scored over one goal in, but even that was rather fortuitous.  They scored controversial goal (the ball probably didn't go over the line) and had an own goal in the first half.  They had some real moments of calamity defending, but Park Chu-young scored his first from open play to secure the win.

Yeah, it was pretty woeful against Gwangju, Seongnam, and Busan.
However, I still harbored doubts about the team.  I felt as though they make too many individual mistakes defending.  Lee Woong-hee got beat by pace far too often, but Seoul have yet to be punished for it in the league.  Also, and this continues to be a problem, Seoul was being beaten over the top with long balls at least once a game.  With the exception of the Pohang and Gwangju games, they had not been punished for their laxity in defense.

Therefore, I was not confident of Seoul's chances in their next four games.  They had been dominated by Gamba Osaka in their AFC Champion's League round of sixteen fixtures, home and away.  I thought that this would have an affect on them both mentally and physically.  However, they seem to have been galvanized, taking 10 out of 12 points from their last four games.  Even more amazingly, they have played those four games in the span of eleven days and Choi Soo-yong has stuck with pretty much the same line-up, outside of switching out the wing-backs.

So what changed?  How has Seoul improved?  Why has their league table position improved so greatly?

I believe it is for three reasons.  First, the AFC qualifiers are finished, so this is when Seoul traditionally begin to play well in my opinion.  Second, after rotating his line-ups so much, Choi Soo-yong has finally found his desired eleven.  After playing 19 different players in the starting line up for the first seven games and 18 players in the starting line up for the next 4 games, he is down to just fourteen different players in the starting line up in the last four games.  Finally, the league is really close this year.  So many teams have a chance to finish in the top six and this parity has allowed Seoul, even when they did not play well, to stay close.  At some other point, maybe next week, I will address points two and three.

For now though, I like the way things are shaping up.  If Seoul can get a results against Busan and Jennonm, it dovetails nicely into their meeting at the end of the month with Suwon.  If they beat Suwon, I really do think they can catch Jeonbuk and win the league.  

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