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2015 K-League Challenge Team of the Season



Since the high-faluting Classic League now has not one but two teams of the season I thought I would do my bit to keep up the Challenge end and put together an XI from the second tier that would give those overpaid Classic pretty-boys a run for their money (well Daejeon and Busan at least!)

The task wasn't that easy, and not for the reasons you might think. There have been a lot of good performances in the Challenge especially from attacking players. You only have to look at the goals for and against record for each team to see that generally it was forwards that were on top. Great defensive performances were harder to find but still there were more than enough names to choose from.

I've gone for a 4-2-3-1 to shoehorn in as many of the frontmen as I could but even then it wasn't enough. There's no place for National Team star Lee Jung-hyup for example, nor for Chungju's Cho Suk-jae despite banging in 19 goals in the season. Absent too are former international  Cho Won-hee, E-Land striker Tarabai and all but one of Daegu's Brazilians, all of whom could have had a claim to make the team.

Let's take a look at who did make the line-up then.

GK + Defense

Kim Young-kwang (Glory) - Seoul E-Land 
There are a few decent keepers in the Challenge but, to my mind, Glory is the standout. It was a bit of a coup when E-Land managed to persuade the former NT goalie to drop down to the Challenge and he's proved exactly how valuable a good keeper can be. E-Land might not have had the best defensive record over the season but it would have been much worse if Glory wasn't on form. He's still one of the best keepers in the K-League for me and at an age when he should be at his prime. A fantastic moment for him in the FA Cup match at Ulsan when he stood up to take the first penalty in the shoot-out, scored and then promptly saved the next Ulsan effort!

Lee Yong - Sangju Sangmu
The Ulsan man is one that I have kept an eye on since the World Cup as I thought he was probably South Korea's best performer in what was an otherwise pretty dire showing despite the big names around him. He's not quite the marauding wingback type but he simply oozes confidence and provides solidity at the back while still getting forward when opportunity allows. For most of the season he looked incredibly comfortable in the Sangju backline playing with the air of someone who knows he should be playing at a higher level.

Austin Berry - FC Anyang
When former MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry signed for Anyang it came a bit out of the blue and nobody quite knew what to expect. He pretty quickly showed what he was capable of with a series of commanding performances at the back despite the struggles that his team faced overall. His physicality was a welcome addition to the Anyang defence and he even earned himself a goal with a proper defender's finish against Chungju. For next season Berry is going to turning out for his hometown team FC Cincinnati, he'll be missed.


Hwang Do-yeon - Seoul E-Land
With some of the bigger name signings taking the attention at E-Land the loan signing of Hwang from Jeju United probably slipped under many people's radar. From the start of the season he was a calm and assured influence in the backline with a more laidback style than the slightly wildcard approach of partner Carlyle Mitchell. More mature than you would expect from a 24 year old and comfortable on the ball, Do-yeon was a pleasant surprise at the heart of the defence. Next season he will be joining the Police team to see out his service so he will be one to watch in the Challenge again in 2016.

Park Jin-po - Sangju Sangmu
Left-back was a bit of a difficult choice as I didn't really think there was a standout over the season but I was pretty impressed by Park in the games that I saw of him. He has a pretty good engine and gets up and down the left flank well. Solid at the back and providing a pretty decent attacking threat I'm sure parent club Seongnam will be glad to get him back at the end of next year. He even managed to chip in with 3 goals this season which isn't bad for a full-back.


Midfield


Kim Jae-sung - Seoul E-Land
For large parts of the season former World Cup squadman Kim looked a class above anything else in the division. He was Martin Rennie's Mr Reliable and ended up playing centre midfield, right wing, right back and just about every position except goalie over the course of the season, looking equally accomplished wherever he played. Centre-mid was where he was most at home however and he complemented a willing engine with a bit of skill and a mean setpiece delivery. He might be slightly disappointed to only bag 4 goals but he was the assist king this season for E-Land.

Lee Seung-ki - Sangju Sangmu
There were lots of contenders for the second midfield slot but I was very impressed with Lee Seung-ki when I saw him play. He wasn't an ever-present for Sangju but still managed to chip in 5 goals and provided excellent workrate and good attacking threat in the middle park. The Jeonbuk man was part of the team that lifted the Classic trophy in 2014 and he can now add a 2015 Challenge winners medal to his collection.


Attack

Johnathan - Daegu
26 goals in 39 games was a phenomenal return from the Brazilian and his goals were pretty much pivotal in making Daegu's season such a good one. As part of the foursome also including Eder, Serginho and Leo, Johnathan terrorised defences for pretty much the entire season. He was equally capable of running the length of the park and smashing in a beauty as sneaking in at the back post to finish from a yard out with his backside. Apparently he's off to Qatar next season and he'll be a big loss to the K-League.

Joo Min-kyu - Seoul E-Land
I've waxed lyrical about Joo-mes for pretty much the entire season so you're probably tired of listening to me praise our K-League United Comeback Player of the Year. Suffice to say that Joo came from nowhere to take the league by storm and, but for Uli Stielike having all the imagination of a man who has had the imagination centre of his brain removed by a short-sighted butcher using a spoon, he would have (and should have) earned an international cap and led the line at the East Asian Championships. 23 goals including a few absolute crackers and a replica of James Rodriguez's Goal of the 2014 World Cup Tournament has surely put him on the radar of bigger teams.

Kim Sun-min - FC Anyang
You can't really beat an old-school little tricky winger for entertainment value and, when his 5'5" frame charges down the flank, Kim is a real throwback. The on-loan Ulsan man was a revelation with his direct running and about the only bright spot in an otherwise pretty flaccid Anyang attack. Kim has fought back from some pretty serious injury problems and is hopefully getting his career back on track now. At 24 he still has plenty of time to make his name in the game. His goal in the season opener at Jamsil was something special.


Japa - Suwon FC
Every team needs a striker who just scores goals and that's what Japa provides. A proper old fashioned centre-forward, Japa led the line for Suwon with great effectiveness this season. He was the team's top scorer by a country mile with 21 from 35 games and was absolutely key in their promotion scoring in the 90th minute of the second leg against Busan just to underline his importance to the team. It would have been interesting to see how he coped with the step up to the Classic but apparently he's already confirmed to be leaving for China. Another one that will be sadly missed from the K-League

2 comments

  1. Too many centre forwards for this formation, Steve. I know you know very well Kim sun-min, but he didn't played as CM? I think the Suwon midfielders 36 and 99 were pretty good as well.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Too many centre forwards is probably right but had to find a way to squeeze them in. Johnathan I think is good enough to play wide, and KSM tended to float a bit but was a great winger. JMK I think was at his best played one off a centreforward. Probably what it needs is some more sitting midfielders but I refused to pick Cho Won-Hee as he drove me nuts second half of the season and blanked my mate at Gangwon :).

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