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2016 Season Preview: Seoul E-Land

Photo Courtesy of Seoul E-Land FC

Team Overview 

After failing to get promoted in their inaugural season E-Land have regrouped for a second charge at the Challenge title. Falling at the first play-off hurdle would have been a big disappointment to Martin Rennie’s men and significant changes have been made to the roster for this season. They’ll be hoping to maintain their free-scoring form while tightening up at the back if they have serious ambitions of making the step up to the big league in 2017.

Last Season

4th Place: 16-13-11 (Lost in Play-off Semi-final to Suwon)

What Happened?

Good question. 2015 was a real season of three halves for E-Land and it was quite an adventure to follow them through it.

After being launched to much fanfare the team didn’t so much explode out of the blocks as saunter round the track like one of those ajummas you occasionally find doing laps of the pitch at K3 grounds. It took until May to record their first ever win (a 5-1 demolition of Suwon at their patch) which seemed to spark the team into life. From that point they went on an amazing run of 9 wins in 11 matches scoring 27 goals in the process. From the mid-point of the season things became more difficult and the remainder of the season was characterised by more stuttering form and performances. Nevertheless the team managed to hold on to a play-off place but fell foul of the ‘home team wins in event of a draw’ rule after a thrilling 3-3 encounter with eventual promotees Suwon.

Key Player

There were several strong individual performers in 2015 despite the disappointment overall. Three E-Land players made the official team of the season (Kim Jae-sung, Cho Won-hee and Joo Min-kyu) while a few others made my personal team of the season which you can see here.

There was little doubt that top-scorer Joo Min-kyu was the key man last season with his 23 goals. Much will be expected of him again this year and it will be interesting to see if he can push on and establish himself as one of the K-League’s top forwards or whether he will suffer from difficult second season syndrome. The good news is that he will have plenty of help up front. In Joo, Tarabai and new signing Jonatas Belluso E-Land have three of the top four scorers left in the league with a total of 55 scored between them last season.

It’s been all change at the back for E-Land during the break and tightening up a leaky defence has been priority number one for the coaching team. If E-Land are serious about promotion then they will need to reduce the goals against column in 2016 and it will be tough-tackling centre-back Kim Dong-cheol that is tasked with marshalling the defence. The 25-year-old was brought in from Jeonnam Dragons and has already impressed in pre-season matches bringing some much needed K-League Classic experience to the team. His performances will also be key.

Korean National Teamer To Watch

It’s been a while since either Kim Young-kwang or Kim Jae-sung pulled on the red jersey of Korea so it would be a bit of a stretch to call either of them the National Teamer To Watch. Instead, the interesting national team story might well be whether Joo Min-kyu can push for inclusion yet again in 2016. He was knocking on the door of the Asian Cup squad before Uli Stielike decided against it but if he manages another 20+ goals this season then I might have to resurrect #daehanminkyu on Twitter again.

Transfer Window

As you might expect at the end of a club’s first ever  season there have been significant ins and outs over the transfer window to the point where it’s almost impossible to keep track of all the changes.

From the nominal first team alone out have gone Hwang Do-yeon, Cho Won-hee, Bobby Cullen, Kim Young-keun (or Sung-ju if you prefer), Lee Jae-an and Ryan Johnson.  The backup ranks have also been culled with keeper Lee Beom-soo following Jeon Ki-sung, Oh Chang-hyun, Oh Kyu-bin and Lee Jeon-pil out the door. Somewhat bizarrely Daegu defender Lee Joon-hee also left after only a week or so of being on the club books.

In terms of players brought in there haven’t been as many high profile signings but the team have
strengthened in a number of key areas. Tarabai will return on loan and former Gangwon man Jonatas
Belluso completes a pretty tasty looking front line. Bonus points too for being able to snap up the
Brazilian/Syrian to fill the Asian slot.

In midfield the main new name will be experienced campaigner Kim Joon-tae from Goyang. Also in midfield Kim Jae-yeon formerly of Suwon FC comes in, while a raft of signings will strengthen the defence. Former NT full-back Kim Dong-jin returns to Korea though it remains to be seen how his 34 year old legs will cope with the rigours of two games a week. Lee Kyu-ro looks like a strong acquisition at right-back having most recently been with Jeonbuk, Lee Jae-hun from Gangwon and Kim Dong-chul of Jeonnam complete the set.

A number of young guys have also been added to the squad and it’ll be interesting to see if any of these make the step up.  

Expectations This Season

I fully expect the Challenge to be once again a ridiculously competitive league in 2016 and, for that reason, it’s incredibly difficult to predict. E-Land should be there or thereabouts in terms of competing for the title once more but a lot will depend on how well other teams perform in determining whether it’s a successful season or not.

Busan look to be favourites to go straight back up to the Classic as although they have lost a number of key men they have also recruited well. It may take a while for the team to gel with the sheer number of changes however. Daejeon had a horrible year last season but they’ve shown that they can compete in the Challenge and have made a few interesting signings. With no Adriano they will find things a lot tougher in the second tier this time around though. I also expect Gyeongnam to be a much better side this year although they will have to overcome the disadvantage of starting with a 10 point penalty following the match-fixing revelations. Daegu will have to go some to replace Jonathan but should still be competitive.

Looking at the league I’d say just about every club (bar maybe Goyang and Chungju) will go into the
season thinking they have a chance of at least a play-off place but I fully expect E-Land to achieve that at a minimum. Going one better and winning the title might be a bigger ask but is a realistic aim. I suspect that missing out on promotion again this season would see a rethink behind the scenes and possibly big changes.

Predicted Finish

2nd Place: I can’t quite see us taking the title in 2016 but I think we will come close. A lot will depend on how well the new defence gels but I feel as if we are still one or two good players away from a team that will win the league. There’s still time to bring in new players though and E-Land still have an open foreign player slot. If we were to bring in a really dominant midfielder to replace Cho Won-hee I might just be convinced that 1st place is there for the taking. With return of the leopard print on the shirt this season anything is possible!

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