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2015 K League Surprising XI

By Miroslav Tramita - @FRsoccerMiro

In the follow up to my 2015 K League Classic Best XI, here are XI players who caught my eye despite low expectations of them. Most of them are talented players who were given more game time and simply took their chances really well. Some of them arrived during summer and made an instant impact. Have a look at my Surprising XI.

GK + Defence 

GK - Choi Bong-Jin (Gwangju)
Gwangju's biggest problem in the first half of the season was in goal. There wasn't a clear number one and both GKs made some shocking and hilarious mistakes that cost the newly promoted club points. During the summer transfer window, they brought in Choi Bong-jin from Gyeongnam as part of a player exchange. Coming from a team that was in the lower part of K League Challenge, I was really surprised to see him establish himself in goal very quickly and put in some good performances. Suddenly, Gwangju´s main problem was the quality of their home pitch. 

RB - Lee Tae-Hee (Seongnam)
Lee TH was signed from Soongsil University before this season and for the first half of it, he was only used in KFA Cup games or during a busy schedule when Seongnam wanted or needed to rest their first choice fullbacks. His real chance came in early August when Kwak Hae-sung suffered an injury and he really took it well! He was full of energy and running in his first game as Seongnam beat Daejeon. He impressed K-League United Manager of the Year Kim Hak-bum so much, that he remained first choice at RB until the end of the season, even after Kwak HS returned. The 23 year old will be confident going into next season and hopeful he can retain his spot! 

CB - Baek Dong-Gyu (Jeju Utd)
Signed from FC Anyang to help deal with the injury crisis at the back, the young CB quickly became a vital part of Jeju's defence. He didn't make many mistakes (a big problem with most of their CBs) and created a good partnership with captain Oh Ban-suk. Jeju's manager was really happy with him and decided to keep him in the side even after Aleks Jovanovic returned from injury, which pushed the Australian higher up the pitch to keep Oh BS and Baek DG at the heart of defence. 

CB - Bae Seul-Ki (Pohang) 
Only a back up in the previous seasons with Pohang, the 30 year old became regular this season and was more consistent than highly rated Kim Gwang-seok, who wasn't at his best after missing the beginning of the season with an injury. Other CBs rotating alongside Bae SK were also error-prone and the fact Pohang only conceded 32 goals was mainly down to him and GK Shin Hwa-yong. 

LB - Kim Tae-Bong (Daejeon)
Yet another player coming to Classic from FC Anyang in the summer as part of a strengthening that eventually didn't help Daejeon stay up. Kim TB played every minute since signing for the club and was one of their best players, whether he was deployed at RB or later on at LB. He scored a fantastic winning goal against Jeonnam and delivered a number of good crosses too. I really wonder if someone will sign him as he can play on either side and provide good forward runs while also defending well. Perhaps FC Seoul will consider him with Cha Du-Ri retiring? 


DM - Park Yong-Woo (FC Seoul)
He joined the club prior to this season and while other young players couldn't really get into the squad, Park Yong-woo made quite an impact. Good on the ball and comfortable at CB or DM, he got his chance when Kim Jin-kyu suffered a long term injury. Soon enough, he became an important part of a much improved FC Seoul and often changed positions with Osmar (who can also fulfill both roles). Kim JK returned to the starting XI briefly, but Park JY eventually pushed him out of the squad and has not missed a game since September. His performances in the KFA Cup also earned him a call up for the Olympic Team and he surely fancies his chances to travel with the squad to Brazil next year! 

CM - Kwon Chang-Hoon (Suwon)
He was very close to make my Best XI, but I decided to include him in this team following an incredible season for Suwon, the Olympic Team and KNT! Following the departure of Kim Do-heon to Seongnam, Kwon CH really fit into that empty spot. Showing his passing and dribbling skills from the very first game of the season, he overshadowed Brazilian star and last season's top scorer, Santos, in Suwon's midfield. He scored 10 goals this season for his club and 3 for KNT, including two in his debut! Reports say German clubs are interested and Suwon will have a job to do to keep him at the club. 

AM - Moon Chang-Jin (Pohang)
His season was hampered by injuries and he hasn't started a game since July due to a knee problem. However, the 22 year old impressed me so much, I had to include him here! He scored 4 goals and provided 2 assists in 10 starts. He also worked nicely with Kim Seung-dae rotating up front, which was probably the reason why he was given a chance ahead of Andre Moritz (flop of the season?) quite often before suffering the knee injury. I was surprised by his quality as he didn't really play much in the previous season and hope he can stay fit next year so we can enjoy his talent much more than we did in 2015. If fit, he should also be important player for the Olympic Team. 


LW - Nam Jun-Jae (Seongnam)
Part of the exodus from Incheon before the season, it took him a while before he was given a proper chance at his new club. It looked like another season mostly on the bench for him, but since he got back into the squad in mid April, Nam JJ started almost every single game. Motoring up and down the left flank before usually going off in the second half. Not very technical, but his energy and pace caused lot of trouble and his contribution to Seongnam was much more than his goals and assist tallies suggest. 

RW - Ivan Kovacec (Ulsan)
A summer arrival from Austrian side Altach really took K League by storm. He played on the left flank, but I couldn't really find a player who was good enough for me to get to this list, so I decided to bend the rules a little in this case. Kovacec manager 6 goals and 6 assists in 15 starts for Ulsan, including a fantastic hat-trick against Jeonnam at the end of October. He confirmed he's staying at Ulsan in a recent interview and feels really good (no wonder!) in Korea. I really didn't expect such a great half season from a player who struggled in Europe and wasn't even making the bench for Altach. Ulsan's season surely could've been much different with him in the squad since beginning of the season. Perhaps next year? 

AT - Hwang Ui-Jo (Seongnam)
Mostly used as an impact sub in the previous season, the talented forward really left his mark this year! He was the difference for Seongnam in the AFC Champions League scoring three goals in the group stages. He still has a way to go and needs to improve on his chance to goal ratio. Some of his 15 league goals were top class, but how many sitters has he missed before scoring them? If he can keep his nerve in 1v1s, he should get over 20 goals easily next season. Uli Stielike has also given him a couple of chances in a KNT shirt and Hwang UJ got his first international goal in an October friendly against Jamaica. Hopefully he can add some more in years to come while scoring regularly for his club!

Love this side? Still didn't see who you were looking for? Leave a comment below with the player(s) you would've had on the list.


  1. Pretty surprised to see Nam Jun-jae over Mislav Oršić to be honest. Seongnam did have a better season, but Oršić really came out of nowhere to dominate the league for a good stretch of time.

  2. Orsic surely did better (for most of the season) than Nam JJ, but I would argue about where he came from. Fair enough, we didn´t know much about the player before the season, but looking at his CV when he signed (good goal return in Croatia, spell in Italian Serie B and playing for most of Croatia youth teams) + being a foreign signing, I expected him to be important for Dragons. Hence, his decent season (although we all know about 3 deaf months) didn´t come as such a surprise as compared to Nam in his position.

  3. Not sure Moon Chang-jin is really a "surprise". He's been good for Pohang before (despite his young age) and very important for Korean youth teams.

    1. there was a bit of text that was eventually left out when I talked about Kwon CH, but it fits here too :) .... I think most of you following K League for couple of years probably knew what to expect of him, unfortunately, this was my first season covering the competition so my knowledge was limited.


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