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2018 Season Preview: Jeju United

Jeju United come into the new K League season off a second place finish in the last campaign, its best since 2010.  Last season also marked a return to the Champions League, where they reached the Round of 16, only to fall out of the competition to Japanese side Urawa Reds.  The club remained in title contention until the final rounds, falling just short to eventual champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.  A new campaign signals the return of some names already familiar to the club, while welcoming some new faces to beef up an already potent attack.


Last Season


19-9-10, 2nd place

What Happened?


Jeju were serious title contenders until the bitter end, but fell short, ending the season on a three match winless streak, including a 3-0 home defeat to the champions.  The club enjoyed a lengthy unbeaten spell midway through the season, stirring up hope for a first title since relocating to the island in 2006, and second in club history, having won their only title back in 1989.

Notable Moves


In the off-season, Jeju added to its already attack-oriented lineup, bringing in Ryu Seung-uh from German Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen.  The 23 year old attacking midfielder could find a place on the right side in a midfield which is the engine to Jeju's high powered offence.  He previously also won the Hungarian Cup with Ferencvarosi TC in the 2016/17 season.  As long as he is able to stay match fit, he could be considered for increased playing time.

With the loss of Frederic Mendy, who left the club on a free transfer to join Thai side Bangkok Glass in the Toyota Thai League, the club responded with the addition of Roberson, who spent last season with Sport Club Internacional in Brazil's Serie A.  It is hoped that the center forward will be able to step in right away and inherit the scorers role which was vacated by fellow Brazilian Marcelo Toscano, who left the club midway through last season.

Several defenders are also back from loan spells, including right back Kim Bong-rae, who split time in the K League Challenge last season with Seoul E-Land and Suwon FC.  Jeju's back line looked shaky at best in some critical matches last season, and his return could prove helpful in shoring up what was a porous defence down the stretch.  With previous Classic experience under his belt, and with the ability to play all positions in the back, his versatility could prove useful should the club face injury problems this season.

Needs


While Jeju's defensive record was good for second best in the league last season, results at the end of the year showed that there is still work to be done in solidifying the back four.  The hope is that players returning from loan will be able to play a positive role in keeping the ball out of the net, especially in key matches where the team fell short.  Jeju has been known as a fierce attacking side the past few seasons with consecutive top three finishes, but the goal this season should be to round the club into a more balanced outfit, a side that should learn how to cover both ends of the pitch effectively.

Jeju has managed to find the back of the net on a regular basis over the past two seasons, but they enter the new campaign without a proven scorer up front.  Roberson and fellow Brazilian Tiago Marques have no experience playing in the K League.  The former amassed only six goals in 52 appearances playing in Brazil, while Marques managed to score at a bit of a better clip, netting eleven goals in 32 matches.  It still remains to be seen which of the two will be given striker duties once the season gets underway next month.

Key Player 

Magno Cruz

The player to watch this season for the team will be Magno Cruz.  Entering his second full season with the club, he scored twelve goals last season, including two in the Champions League.  His natural position is up the park as an attacking midfielder, but he has the knack for putting the ball in the net.  It took him a spell of time to adjust to his new surroundings last season, but he has quickly become a fan favorite, and will be counted on in earnest to provide much of the offensive output this season.

The 29 year old Brazilian also could be a huge factor in Jeju's fortunes in advancing out of the group stage in the Champions League.  Jeju will open the continental campaign against Cerezo Osaka on February 14th, which is Cruz's former club.  His knowledge of the club is a huge asset for United as they look to advance further than the round of 16 this year.  With the spotlight on him, Cruz is primed for a breakout year.

Biggest Question 

Can Jeju keep up the offensive momentum?

A major question heading into this season is whether or not Jeju will be able to maintain its competitive edge with many new or returning players coming into the fold.  Much of the club's talent which was responsible for its success in the past two years is now gone, and the team itself is still quite young, but showed strides and great improvement last season before running out of gas and falling short of a title.  The hope is that last year's experience will manifest itself in a positive way, and that coach Jo Sung-hwan, who has been with the club since 2016, will be able to find a winning formula to keep the island club in contention for title glory this year.

Reason to Watch


Jeju are a fast-paced, exciting team to watch.  If the past two seasons are any indication, this is a team that knows how to put the ball in the net.  Having tallied 131 goals over the past two seasons, (71 two seasons ago and 60 last year), they are definitely one of the highest powered team's in all of Korean football.  With a taste of continental competition under their belts from 2017, there is reason to believe that this team will go into the new year looking for more - which could lead to another boatload of goals.

But, they can also be a frustrating outfit to watch at times when their defence is not on a good day.  One thing is definitely for certain - there is no shortage of intensity every time this team steps onto the pitch.  Throw in the fact that their home pitch, the Jeju World Cup Stadium, is a proper ground to watch a match.  The hope is that the marketing brass will do its utmost to get more people into the seats this season.  If all things align, the calls of "Again, 1989" will not only be ringing anew, it could bring a league trophy to the island for the first time ever.







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