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Preview: FC Seoul vs Jeju United

After being thoroughly humiliated by Gangwon to the tune of 4-0 last time out, FC Seoul have little left to play for as the 2017 season wraps up. Unable to defend their 2016 title, booted from the FA Cup early, and now eliminated from 2018 AFC Champions League, a good number of players will take the field Sunday looking to earn a spot on the squad next year. Others, like veterans Kwak Taehwi, Park Chuyoung, and Dejan, may well be heading out for their final match in the red and black.
(image via hankookilbo.com)


Overview

(soccerway.com)


First Time, Long Time

For the first time in a decade, FC Seoul won't have a seat at the table when the 2018 AFC Champions League kicks off early next year. Technically, it's still mathematically possible, but it would require a slew of results and goals to go their way. In order to miraculously qualify for ACL, Seoul would need to beat Jeju, see 4th place Ulsan lose or draw at Gangwon, and have 3rd place Suwon lose at Jeonbuk. And even that wouldn't be enough. Because K League's first tiebreaker after wins is goals scored (instead of the more standard goal difference), Seoul would need to net at least 7 times to close the 53 to 60 goals scored gap between them and the Bluewings. Again, mathematically possible, but it's over.

The capital club's failure to qualify for ACL is the first such blunder since their 2007 campaign saw them finish an uncharacteristic 7th out of the then 14 team K League. That season they won only eight of their 26 games while scoring a nearly league worst 23 goals. The next year they signed Incheon United's promising Montenegrin striker Dejan Damjanović and promptly bounced back into ACL finishing second in the league in 2008. While the off season and upcoming transfer window will certainly bring with it dreams of signing the next club legend for a similar single year turnaround, the fact remains it will be a cold, dark, ACL-less winter at Sangam this year.

Fond Farewell?

Though there are already rumors of veteran Park Chuyoung re-signing with the club, the future is less certain for captain Kwak Taehwi, and foreign stalwarts Osmar and Dejan. With just eight goals to his name this year (and a meager three of which coming from open play), Park's signature rings as more of a PR move than anything else. Regardless of his lackluster on field performances, his kit still sells and he's still a recognizable name throughout Korea, so keeping him makes sense in that regard. Additionally, the Seoul front line isn't exactly deep at the moment, so as long as he's not taking up a significant chunk of the budget that could be spent elsewhere, I'm okay with him being in the squad next year. Less than thrilled... but I get it.

The larger question marks linger around the other three on the list, and it seems nearly impossible all will return. After a stellar half season with Seoul in 2016, Kwak Taehwi absolutely fell off a cliff this year and shouldn't be welcomed back. The emergence of Hwang Hyunsoo as a national team caliber center back at the age of 22 has made Kwak far less vital for the club, even if he hadn't dropped more than half a step this year, which he has. Kwak has been directly responsible for far too many goals and a re-tooled squad needs more precision than he can offer at the back. A man that's proved he's capable of filling that or a few other spots on the field is the 29-year-old Spaniard, Osmar. In a year where he's split time at center back and defensive mid, Osmar has still managed to lead the league in interceptions, and even matched his K League career high in goals with four. With Kwak seemingly on the way out, and Lee Myungjoo and Ju Sejong committed to Asan next season, there are far too many holes Osmar's capable of filling for the team to get rid of him. But silly season approaches. According to Football Tribe Asia, Osmar has already been targeted by three Thai League 1 clubs, so Seoul will need to act fast if they don't want the holes in midfield to become gaping craters. The lure of returning to ACL with one of the Thai giants may be too tempting for Osmar should Seoul sit on their hands too long.

Another man that may find his name in the rumor mill is club legend Dejan Damjanović. In spite of a league second best 18 goals this season, the future remains uncertain for the veteran striker. His desire to stay at the club was made abundantly clear in our multiple interviews with him, but the rift between him and manager Hwang Sunhong may trump that. Being forced onto the bench far too often and a constant battle for minutes with Park Chuyoung for the lone striker spot may have worn a bit thin for a man who's nearly done it all in K League. Especially considering Seoul are now out of ACL next year. However, even if he is getting on in years, 18 goals is hard to ignore in this league, and the Seoul front office know that all too well after letting Adriano go last off season. With Dejan's mind seemingly made up, it will be up to the club to determine the direction they want to take next year and if he'll be a part of it. Should they decide to part with him, Sunday will be his final match at Seoul World Cup Stadium.

A Look To The Future

With absolutely nothing on the line in the league and so much up in the air heading into the off season (including Hwang Sunhong's spot as manager), there's no better time to give some of the young players under contract next year some minutes. With the aforementioned midfield departures heading to Asan next season, 20-year-old Lim Minhyeok is a name that stands out as possibility this weekend. With two starts and 110 minutes logged this season he isn't entirely green, but could certainly use some more time on the field to see what's on offer heading into 2018. It's doubtful he'll go the full 90, but it would be nice to see if he's an in house option to replace Ju Sejong even on an occasional basis. 24-year-old Sim Sangmin could also fit into this category and deserves some minutes this weekend. After featuring regularly for the Korea U23s and logging nearly 1,200 minutes on loan for Seoul E-Land last season, his 13 appearances for just 645 minutes this year has to be a disappointment. An afternoon run out against a still respectable Jeju side could go a long way to assessing exactly how much he can offer next year.

The Adversary

A team that looked set to light the Asian footballing world aflame early in the year has fizzled out entirely after fighting on too many fronts with too little depth. Former Ulsan striker Frédéric Mendy failed to have the impact the club needed this year, leaving the rumored to be departing Magno Cruz the lone Jeju man with over 10 goals on the season. For a team tied for third best goals scored total, they simply cannot find the back of the net this fall and it quite literally cost them the title. The team came up dry at the worst time and has been held scoreless in three of their last six, and only netted three goals over that span. If ever there were a time for Seoul to be playing the Islanders, it's surely now. However, after two mundane scoreless affairs between these clubs at Sangam this season, neutrals (and even a few Seoul supporters) will be hoping Jeju can turn things around and get at least one.

Who To Watch

Defender of the Year candidate Oh Bansuk should be back in the lineup after missing the previous match through suspension, and should factor into this one heavily. With nothing left to lose, the hope is that Seoul will throw caution to the wind and at least entertain the home fans for a final time in 2017. Bansuk will be responsible for ensuring that doesn't happen and may be tasked with a man-to-man defense of Dejan to safeguard the back line. Standing at 189 cm, he won't be giving up much (if anything) physically in the clash, and with nearly 3,000 minutes logged in his seventh year with Jeju, this certainly won't be his first rodeo. With Jeju struggling so mightily to score late in the season, Oh and his defensive partners are going to have to keep things extremely close for United to have a chance of winning this one. Also, it should just be fun to watch him duke it out with Seoul's attacking core.

Prediction

Aside from Seoul's dominant performance vs Ulsan at the end of October, neither of these teams have looked overly inspiring of late. Given Jeju's offensive struggles, it's tough to see this being a high scoring affair, but hopefully for anyone watching there are at least a few. My gut tells me this will be the third 0-0 between these sides this year... but I'll be an optimist and say there are goals to be had... I hope.

FC Seoul 2-1 Jeju United

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