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2017 Season Review: Suwon Bluewings

A season that promised so much at the beginning of 2017 ultimately ended in disappointment as Suwon Bluewings ended the season finishing in 3rd place and winning no silverware. Here, I take a look back on Suwon's season and examine what exactly went wrong for the team that was tipped by Kleague United's pundits to be the champions of Korea. (Picture courtesy of www.bluewings.kr)

What Went Well

Apart from Johnathan's excellent season and an unbelievable run of form through the summer, very little went right for the Bluewings this season. Another year of poor early season form, combined with unfortunate injuries and diabolical refereeing decisions saw the Suwon faithful endure yet another tough season from the terraces.

However, with Johnathan still part of the squad the future does look bright. The Brazilian continued his fine form of 2016 directly into this year and added another 22 goals to his impressive Kleague goal tally. The talismanic forward has now scored 72 goals in only 82 appearances in the Kleague (spread between his time at Daegu and Suwon) and is well on his way to becoming the Bluewings' all time leading goalscorer, a record only broken this season by the departing Santos. At times, his performances dragged Suwon through games and there is no doubting that he is the biggest talent that the league has to offer, despite the Kleague's official MVP award controversially being handed to Jeonbuk's Lee Jae-sung. That should not detract from the season that the Brazilian has had as he finished as the Golden Boot winner and also picked up Kleague United's  Goal of the Season, MVP and Attacker of the Year awards.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Suwon's best run of form in the season was when Johnathan was at his peak and his run of 10 goals in 6 games came at a time when Suwon picked up 19 points from the 24 that were on offer to them through July and early August. Victories against Jeju, Incheon, Pohang, Jeonnam and Sangju lifted Suwon to within touching distance of first place and with momentum on their side it looked as though they would mount a significant title challenge. However, an injury to Johnathan in August's Super Match put paid to that and without the striker Suwon seriously struggled.

What Didn't Go Well

Johnathan's injury certainly hindered Suwon and the lack of attacking depth in the squad was exposed when the Brazilian was unavailable for selection. Part of the reason for that was Seo Jung-won's insistence to play Yeom Ki-hun, a left winger by trade, in the unfamiliar position of centre forward. Ki-hun looked uncomfortable from the start of the season and although he finished the season providing 11 assists (and ludicrously making his way into the Kleague team of the year) he struggled to make an impact on the team in crucial matches. Yeom Ki-hun didn't necessarily play badly but in the absence of Johnathan more should have been expected from the club legend, and dropped points against the likes of Daegu, Incheon and Pohang (when Ki-hun was leading the line) halted Suwon's progress at a pivotal period in the season.

The 2017 Kleague season will be forever remembered for the shambolic introduction of VAR and Suwon's season suffered at the hands of poor VAR decisions on a number of occasions. However, one decision in particular halted Suwon's late season progress and cost them their chance to retain their FA Cup crown. With the FA Cup semi-final locked at 1-1, a long ball was won in the air by Kim Gun-hee and his cushioned header found Johnthan who scored a wonderful 25 yard volley in the last minute of extra-time to seal the tie in favour of Suwon. However, despite the referee seeing no contact between Gun-hee and the Busan defender (and with television replays showing no contact) the video assistant referee decided to overturn the goal and the tie went to penalties. Busan subsequently won the penalty shootout and advanced to the final leaving Seo Jung-won with yet another trophy-less year on his C.V.

Team MVP

This honour undoubtedly goes to Johnathan, but one of the unsung heroes of the season has been Matthew Jurman. The Australian has brought a solidity to Suwon's back line that was missing in last season's disastrous league campaign and it is no surprise that Suwon conceded 18 fewer goals this season than in that 2016 campaign. Jurman led the league in interceptions per game and maybe if it weren't for his controversial gesture to Jeonbuk striker Lee Dong-guk he may well have made his way into the Kleague Classic team of the year. But the Australian's fine form saw him finally gain international honours, gaining his first cap in the World Cup play-off against Syria. And the resolute defender will be looking to maintain that form in 2018 and secure himself a place in the Soceroo's World Cup squad.

Most Disappointing Player

This is quite a difficult question to answer as no player had a really terrible season. However, after having had such a successful season in 2016 when he was playing under Cho Jin-ho's Sangju, Park Ki-dong arrived at Suwon with a lot of expectation that he could be the perfect strike partner for Johnathan. But unfortunately the towering striker came nowhere near matching the form he showed for Sangju, when he scored 9 goals and provided 7 assists for his team mates, instead only registering a measily 3 goals and 0 assists. In truth, it was not all entirely the player's performance that resulted in such poor statistics as Seo Jung-won regularly deployed the striker on either wing and instructed his team to loft high ball's to him in desperation. But his lack of courage in and around the box became a regular point of concern for Suwon fans and if he is to improve on this year's dismal showing he will need to be much more adventurous in his play next term.

Most Important Decision of the Off Season

This season Suwon almost exclusively employed a 3-5-2 formation and Seo Jung-won became so fixated upon using that system that he would regularly ask players to play out of position just so that Suwon could play in that formation. That tactic regularly backfired on the manager and it is no surprise that Suwon's most disappointing results of the season came at times when left wing-back, Kim Min-woo, was either absent, fatigued or out of form.

Thus, the biggest decision for Seo Jung-won will be whether he plans to be as a rigid in his thinking next year or whether he will build a squad that is multi-functional, as Choi Kang-hee has done at Jeonbuk. Suwon's pursuit of former Borussia Dortmund player Park Joo-ho would hint that Seo still sees that 3-5-2 is part of his long term plan and if it is to remain that way then Suwon will need to recruit heavily in the winter.

At the top of Suwon's shopping list should be an attacking right back. Young wing-backs Jang Ho-ik and Koh Seung-beom both had steady seasons and are strong defensively. But they are limited in attack and Suwon were regularly easily contained whenever they attacked down their right flank this term. Also, atleast, another 3 attacking players will be required to lessen the workload and pressure that has been heaped upon Johnathan's shoulders.

Suwon have shown that they have enough solidity and defensive power to challenge for the title. Now it is upto the manager to earn his stripes and prove that he has what it takes to lead a talented team to their first title since 2008.

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