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Writers Chat: Seongnam FC vs Busan IPark Preview

The opening round of the K League Challenge sees two of the favorites for the title and promotion square off as Busan IPark heads to Tancheon to take on Seongnam FC. Both sides saw their 2016 seasons end in disappointment at the hands of Gangwon FC as the northeast side eliminated Busan in the first round, and then beat Seongnam in the finals. I spoke with Seongnam fan, blogger, and podcaster Mark Kelly to get a feel for the mood and expectations at one of Korea's historical giants. 
(header images via seongnamfc.com and busanipark.com)

Jaehyeok Lee Asks, Mark Kelly Answers 

Jaehyeok Lee: Seongnam arguably became the highest profile club to drop since relegation was introduced - given they won the KFA Cup just a few years ago and made the knockout round of the ACL a couple years ago. How is the mood/atmosphere among fans and at the club going into their first year in the second division?

Mark Kelly: As you can imagine things we were pretty negative at the end of last season. I was in Pohang when we lost to fall into the playoffs and everyone was pretty distraught. Losing to Gangwon, unfortunately, wasn't unexpected tbh. The mood now seems to be relatively optimistic. Park Kyung Hoon coming in is regarded as a big name and the new signings of Paulo and Vidosic are also filling the fans with more confidence more than hope. 

JL: Seongnam kept held of some of their "big name" players in Hwang Ui-jo, Kim Dong-jun, and Kim Do-heon. How important will they be to Seongnam's chances at bouncing straight back?

MK: I think keeping the big name players was essential. I think especially since we've lost Park Jin Po (Jeju) Yun Young Sun and Lim Chai Min (Army) all from defence that we needed to keep Kim Dong Jun in goals. I also think there was a lot of pressure on Uijo last year after his 2015 performances and he really struggled with that. In the Challenge he should get more time and can hopefully find form again.

JL: Park Kyung-hoon took charge of the club over the offseason. At Jeju he introduced some exciting and attacking football. Is the same expected of him at Seongnam?

MK: I think a big part of why the fans are excited about Park is his reputation for attacking football. Kim Hak Bum was far too defensive last year, the final home defeat to Seoul was the last straw for most of us. So I'd say that we all expect/hope that we'll be far more exciting to watch. 

JL: Prediction/random other thoughts ahead of the match?

MK: A good start is so important to both teams this year and so the match has the potential to be a cracker. Last year Tancheon was 'sold out' for the opening match against Suwon Bluewings and hopefully we can get a huge crowd again this time. For a prediction I'm going to go with a 2-1 home victory with Hwang Uijo among the goals.

Mark Kelly Asks, Jaehyeok Lee Answers

Mark Kelly: Last year Busan started really slow then made a last gasp push to clinch a playoff spot. Why do you think they were so sluggish and can you avoid that this year?

Jaehyeok Lee: I think many of the new signings brought in last season didn't pan out exactly like then-coach Choi Young-joon thought. So, when the season kicked off, the team didn't perform up to expectations. As a result of that, Choi was constantly chopping and changing his team every week. There was no chemistry built between players because you never knew who you would be playing next too the next match. It was when, Choi finally found his preferred XI that the results started coming.

Well, at the risk of being obvious, hopefully the team starts well. As it relates to last season's problem, Cho Jin-ho seems to have an idea of who he thinks fits into the system he wants to play. Whether that pans out in real matches is another question. Based on the preseason matches, it seems like most of the XI is sorted for opening day (although the last few matches, the XI has been kept secret a bit and Cho has changed the formation around a bit). And, hopefully the performances we've seen in preseason against some of the stronger Chinese sides (Shanghai SIPG, Shanghai Shenhua) are reason to believe the team can get results against fellow Challenge sides.

MK: Busan is the 2nd biggest city in Korea yet crowds have been really low for a while. Why do you think that is? Is it the team or marketing thats to blame?

JL: Probably a bit of both. Busan has ramped up their marketing over the past couple years, but they're already in a hole, so it'll take a while until they catch up I think. But more than that, I do think Busan getting relegated - along with the poor and dull performances - are the bigger issues. Koreans like winners, and Busan hasn't been a winning side in a while. Even when the team was doing well under Ahn Ik-soo, they were dreadfully boring to watch. Hopefully, Cho Jin-ho's more attacking style and a push for - and God willing - promotion will get people back in the stadium. On a side note, the return of legendary slugger Lee Dae-ho to Sajik will certainly not help the Asiad's flagging attendance rate.
 
MK: You've brought in Lukian from Bucheon and ex-Gamba full back Yasuda do you think they can be the men to lead ur team back to the Classic?

JL: Lukian certainly seems to be a player that Cho Jin-ho will rely heavily on for goals. In preseason he seems to have outperformed Lee Jeong-hyeop for the starting center forward position. He scored a fair few for Bucheon last season, so hopefully he can continue the string of decent Brazilian attackers we've had over the past several years (Fagner, Weslley, Popp).

I'm less certain about Yasuda, who joined up late in preseason and didn't feature a lot with the club. Fullback has been a weakness for us over the past years (since a certain Jang Hak-young left). Hopefully his experience though will help as the defense looks like it'll undergo a fairly big change in personnel from last season.
 
MK: Cho Jin-ho had a pretty incredible season with the Army last year and was probably on a lot of team's radars. Moving to Busan may have surprised a lot of people, do you think he can replicate that success with Busan?

JL: It's certainly possible. On paper, we've got one of the strongest attacking line ups in the Challenge in the form of the aforementioned Lukian and Lee Jeong-hyeop, along with Lim Sang-hyub, Jung Seok-hwa, Ko Kyung-min, Park Jun-tae, and Romulo. But the midfield, especially center midfield, remains a work in progress (to put it nicely). Perhaps Cho Jin-ho is planning on bypassing the center of the park and use a lot of wing-oriented play, but our (and Cho's) success may ride on how much control we can get in the middle.

MK: General thoughts and or prediction for the game?

JL: A win would be nice for sure, and it would also send a statement of sorts given that most seem to see Seongnam as the likely league champions. Both Cho Jin-ho and Park Kyung-hoon have reputations as attacking managers, so hopefully they'll live up to the billing and we'll get an exciting match. Have to stay positive, so I'll say a thrilling 3-2 win for the visitors!


Opening Weekend Meet and Greet

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