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2018 Season Preview: Pohang Steelers

A new season in Pohang brings hope that the club will have a reversal of fortunes following consecutive seasons in the relegation bracket. At first glance, this year's squad will look much different, considering the number of players coming and going in the off-season.  The retirement of Hwang Ji-soo, who captained the squad for much of last season, begs the question of who will take over the leadership role in the side hoping to make its way back among the league's elite in 2018.
(Photo via Facebook.com/fcpohangsteelers)

Last Season

15-7-16, 7th place

What Happened?

Pohang was a very inconsistent side last season and failed to play with any sense of continuity throughout.  While they didn't have difficulty finding the back of the net, they indeed did have problems getting results. A rough patch in the middle of the campaign sealed their fate with a mid table finish for the second year in a row.  While it hasn't been a prolonged period of time since the club experienced success at the league level, a lot of improvements need to be made in order for the Steelers to be competitive this season.

Notable Moves

The biggest move at the club is the retirement of Hwang Ji-soo, who spent almost his entire career with Pohang, amassing over 300 caps in the process.  Hwang had been a fixture at the club since he began his K League career in 2004, winning league titles in 2007 and 2013, three FA Cups (including back to back titles in 2012-13), a League Cup in 2009, and an Asian Champions League title the same year. How the Steelers will replace that sort of track record and experience remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure - an era has ended at the Steelyard. But with hope that a new one is set to begin.

The arrivals of three Brazilian players (winger Getterson, center forward Leo Gamalho, and center back Alemao) look to add balance to a squad that suffered through a streaky spells last season. Namely one that lasted from mid-June to mid-September in which Pohang went 3-3-10, leaving them outside the top six at season's end and in the relegation division for the year season in a row. Of the three, Getterson had a short stint with FC Dallas of the MLS, having a chance to play in the CONCACAF Champions League and US Open Cup. It is hoped that all will be starters once the season gets underway.

Additionally, the signing of Connor Chapman from Incheon United last month will hopefully add some depth to the back line.  The 23-year-old Australian center back is also capable of playing on the left, and could play a defensive role in the midfield if called upon. Chapman became a regular first eleven player with United midway through June last season, and that experience could be valuable in igniting a youthful resurgence for the Steelers this season.  


As a team, Pohang scored 64 goals in the league last year with almost half of them coming from two players. Yang Dong-hyun was second top scorer in K League 1 with 17 goals and Lulinha also finished in the top ten contributing 11. Unfortunately for the Steelers, both left the club in the off-season. Yang made the move to J League and joined Cerezo Osaka, who play in Group G in this year's Champions League. Moving a lot farther, Lulinha headed to U.A.E. side Al-Sharjah.

Outside those two, the only other player who made a significant contribution in the goal scoring department last season is Shim Dong-woon, with eight goals. However, he too left the club this winter and will don new colors for Sangju when the season gets underway.  

With offensive production seemingly at a premium, results could be hard to come by if some of the new signings for the club do not justify the reasoning they were brought in for: to find the back of the net.

Key Player

Leo Gamalho

The free transfer 32-year-old Brazilian center forward joins yet another new club hoping to live up to expectations.  Throughout his career (the bulk of which has been spent in Brazil), he has made stops in China and Uruguay, playing for Shanghai Pudong and Nacional, respectively. His arrival in Korea could be his last chance to prove he is capable of scoring the goals Pohang will need so badly to stay in the hunt for at least a place in the Championship Round at the end of the year. To his credit, he did garner experience playing some top flight South American football, appearing in both the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa Libertadores earlier in his career. It is a bit of a surprise Pohang would bring in a largely unproven striker to bolster its striking potential as many of the teams in the league are seemingly trying to get younger. But if Gamalho finds his form early on, it could set the table for a good campaign both for him and the club.

Biggest Question

Will Choi Soon-ho keep his job if Pohang falls flat again this season?

Pohang is perhaps the most prominent club in Korean football history, having won the league title on five different occasions and ACL a record three times. Current coach Choi Soon-ho was appointed in 2016 to bring back a winning tradition to the club, but could be on his way out if he can't figure out a way to get the Steelers off to a quick start. To his credit, Choi is widely regarded as somewhat of a legend in K League history, having been a prolific striker in the 1980's for the club. He played for South Korea at the World Cup in 1986 and 1990, and was also a member of the Olympic team in Seoul in 1988. There is no question he has a big job ahead of him, but if his coaching instincts can match his work rate in front of goal as a player, he may just be able to keep the sinking ship afloat. 

Reason to Watch

Pohang plays its football at the famous Steelyard - one of the grounds of lore in Asian football.  The club has been akin to so much success through the years that it became one of the most feared places to play for opposition. Built in 1990, it was the first stadium in Korea to be built specifically for football, and has been the stage for some of the greatest moments in Asian football history.  For Korean football fans, and for fans of the Korean game, it should be marked on the calendar at least once in a lifetime. To this day, it is the stadium that puts fans closest to the pitch for a full in-game experience.  If the Steelers manage to put together a competitive outfit this season, it could once again regain its status as one of the most feared pitches on the continent.

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