2017 Season Preview: Seoul E-Land FC
A third attempt at getting out of the Challenge was not part of the script when Seoul E-Land were established two years ago. With a host of changes on and off the park, will this finally be the year that they manage to find the right formula or will we be looking for Plan D next season?
(Photo credit: Seoul E-Land FC)
Last Season:W17 D13 L10 GF47 GA35 Pts64 (6th Place)
What Happened:Things looked promising this time last year but a stuttering start to the season saw E-Land failing to mount any kind of credible title challenge from the off. The poor form continued through to the Summer and resulted in Martin Rennie being sacked in June and replaced with Park Kun-ha. The new man rang the changes in the squad leading to pretty inconsistent form. The squad found its feet eventually but a run of six straight wins to end the year wasn't quite enough to grab a play-off spot. The battle went down to the wire on the final day but in the end they had to settle for a 6th place finish.
Notable Moves:The squad has yet again undergone major surgery in the close season and there are new faces in just about every department. It's likely the team will be largely unrecognisable when the season kicks off but the success or otherwise of the year to come seems to hinge on whether three key changes will pay off.
The announcement of the resignation of Park Kun-ha seemed to come completely out of the blue. One minute he seemed to be knee-deep in signing players and getting ready for the new season and the next he was out on his ear. It certainly took me by surprise.
1. Kim Byung-soo for Park Kun-Ha
Equally surprising was the choice of replacement. Kim Byung-soo might have made a bit of a name for himself as the coach of Yeungnam University but it remains to be seen whether someone who has no professional coaching experience is the right man to lead the team in what looks to be the toughest Challenge line-up yet.
The speed of appointment seems to suggest that E-Land knew who they wanted but from my vantage point it certainly looks like an odd choice.
2. Lovinho for Joo Min-kyuWhen I first thought about writing this preview we hadn't signed any foreign players I was going to be lamenting our need of a goalscorer to replace Joo Min-kyu. Last week though E-Land sprung the signing of Lovinho from Kyoto Sanga (alongside team-mate Atsuki Wada) which means at least I can't complain about the lack of foreign signings.
Lovinho will have some big boots to fill is he is to make up for the loss of not only my man-crush Joo-mes but also Tarabai and, sadly, his CV screams 'typical K-League Brazilian signing'. Other than one season in J2 where he managed to hit 14 goals our new import has a fairly lacklustre scoring record - he managed only 6 goals in 2 seasons for Kyoto - and gives the impression that his career in the K-League will be measured in months rather than years.
3. Baek Ji-hoon for Kim Jae-sungOK, Jae-sung spent half of last season on loan to Jeju (a move that has earned him a transfer to the A-League) but for the rest of his E-Land career he was the rock around which the team was built. His energy, running and quality will be sadly missed from the side as much, if not more, as the experience and calming influence of Cho Won-hee was missed last season.
|Baek Ji-hoon will be looking to prove some Suwon Bluewings fans wrong next season. He looks to be a key man in the E-Land midfield.|
Despite our Bluewings correspondent being glad to see the back of him in his season review, I see Baek Ji-joon as a midfielder very much in the mould of the aforementioned international pair. If he can recapture his past form he could absolutely be a star man at Challenge level as he as the quality needed to shine. Perhaps the only question is around his fitness and ability to stay injury free, especially with the rigours of two games a week but at 31 he should, in theory at least, still be near his prime. Baek could be a very wise capture for a team that looks fairly inexperienced elsewhere.
Needs:We have made so many signings in the close season that it's very hard to say exactly what to expect from the team or to identify what our starting line-up might look like let alone analyse potential weakspots. That being said E-land have lost a lot of key men from last season and there are no obvious signs that some of those holes have been filled.
Goalscoring is one area of the team that could be a potential issue. Last season we started with a hugely dangerous looking front three in Belusso, Joo Min-kyu and Tarabai. This season we have Kim Min-kyu, Lovinho and Shim Young-sun who managed fifteen goals between them last season. There's nothing to suggest that any of these guys can step up and deliver the kind of 20-goal season that would probably be required to be competitive at the top end of the table.
Elsewhere, the determined defending of Carlyle Mitchell will be missed at the back as will the experience of Kim Dong-jin and Kim Dong-chul. We will have to wait and see if any of the multitude of new signings can fill those gaps. I remain convinced that a hardman enforcer would make all the difference to this team so hopefully there is one to be found amongst the new recruits.
One of the biggest disappointments of the close season for me was seeing Ahn Tae-hyun allowed to move to Bucheon. The youngster was one of the few bright spots in the early part of last season and his creativity and running will be missed. I can only imagine that the staff at E-Land don't share my view of his potential otherwise allowing him to go to a rival makes next to no sense, especially considering he couldn't have been a very expensive player to hold on to.
Finally, the most pressing need would seem to be the addition of an Aussie. Every other K-League team seems to have one now so starting the season with such a glaring omission suggests E-Land are phoning it in this season.
Key Player:I've already mentioned Baek Ji-hoon as a key player for us and I think he will be pivotal in deciding whether we have anything like a successful season in the coming year. Apart from him things look rather unconvincing with a plethora of largely unknowns and unremarkables filling the squad. That being the case, there is one other strong contender for key player and a lot may well rest on his capable shoulders. That man is Kim Young-kwang.
|Getting Glory to commit to an extended deal to stay at Jamsil was one of the few highlights of an otherwise chaotic close season for E-Land|
Managing to keep a hold of 'Glory' and getting him to commit to an extended contract was one of the few pieces of really good news to come out of Jamsil this winter and it was a pleasant surprise when I saw the announcement. He's been more or less an ever-present for E-Land since day one and is capable of winning points on his own with some top class saves.
Reason To Watch:With so many questions marks over the team and the squad it might well prove to be a long season for E-Land so finding reasons to watch might prove tough. That being said, at least the club have put together a decent offer on season tickets for fans this year.
Prices have been cut across the board and 100,000 won will get you 20 home games, a box full of goodies (including a scarf and a club calendar) 50,000 won discount voucher on a new shirt, and discounts in the club shop and elsewhere. Youths (13-19 years old) pay half as much and appear to get a tracksuit top thrown in to the mix. If you want to watch in style then you can upgrade to the table seating for an extra 30,000 won for a season.
Other reasons to watch? Erm... you get an excuse to wear leopard print, the craft beer at Jamsil is pretty good (if a little pricey) and Dan Harris is still at the club. There are also persistent rumours of Sistar providing the half-time entertainment but you'll just have to attend to see if they do.
There have been so many changes and so many areas of uncertainty around E-Land right now that the biggest question is probably exactly which direction the club is going in. Can they find some kind of consistency of performance and surprise us in the coming season or will things continue to drift as they appear to be doing?
The backing from E-Land Group seems to be waning both financially and in terms of enthusiasm and ambition and it remains to be seen exactly whether they are still excited about this project and the future potential.
I'm convinced that a huge opportunity still exists for a successful second club in Seoul but so far E-Land have struggled to get traction both on and off the park. There seems to be no clear direction or game plan for how they plan to turn things around and a third coach in two years as well as a playing squad which has now seen its third or fourth major overhaul in the same period speaks volumes to the confusion which seems to have taken hold.
There are definitely more questions than answers around E-Land right now but that's all about to change when the first ball of the 2017 season is kicked against Bucheon in a matter of days.