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2018 Season Review: Asan Mugunghwa

K League 2 Season Review 2018: Asan Mugunghwa

Asan Mugunghwa finished the season being crowned champions of K League 2 with two weeks to spare following a comprehensive 4-0 away victory to Seoul E Land at the end of October.  However, the club will not earn promotion to the top flight next season, thanks to the decision to disband the club following the failure to come up with a recruitment plan.  What the future holds is still very much in question, although there is a possibility that a citizen club will be established.  KLU's Branko Belan reviews the champions' run to the top.

What Went Well

On the pitch, everything seemed to click for Asan this season.  The club led the league in wins, goals scored and goal differential.  A host of players the likes of Han Eui-kwon, Hwang In-beom, Kim Hyun, Ju Se-jong, Jo Seong-joon, Lee Myung-joo, and Park Ju-won were all instrumental to the team's success this season.  

Asan's midseason unbeaten run was critical to capturing the league as they went without a loss between late May and the end of August.  Despite leapfrogging at the top with Seongnam on occasion, the team kept its composure and was able to pull away down the stretch.

Perhaps the biggest key to the team's success on the field was the cohesion between manager Park Dong-hyuk's philosophy and the players' implementation of his strategy.  While no single player really stood out statistically, (although Han Eui-kwon did find the net seven times) the equal distribution across the team in terms of production was a key factor in several critical matches, and in particular against Seongnam when the title was on the line.

What Didn't Go Well

Asan only lost six games all season, the lowest of any team in the league this season.  It is no secret that Asan's problems did not exist on the pitch, but off of it.  The government decision to do away with the auxiliary police has hit the club hard.  There will be no new players arriving in the off-season, and the champions will not get automatic promotion to K League 1 next season.

Despite a formal protest against the Police Agency, and a rally at the Blue House, the situation could not be resolved in a timely fashion.  According to Park Sung-kwan, the director of the football club, efforts will continue in order to establish a citizen club.  While there will be many hurdles in this process, financial independence is the primary goal.  He concluded his remarks by thanking everyone involved with the club for their support during what was a difficult season off the pitch.

Young Player of the Year

He has since departed the club following the completion of his military service, but Hwang In-beom was definitely a standout for Asan this season.  Despite only scoring once for the club, at the beginning of the season against Suwon FC, he was a constant presence in the middle of the park for the K League 2 champions, and a major reason why Asan's ball distribution led to so many chances created in front of goal.

His career in international football also has begun to take flight, as he was a member of South Korea's U-23 gold medal squad at the Asian Games in Jakarta/Palembang. Although he did not play in the group stage of the competition, he was instrumental in the knockout phase, assisting once against Iran in the Round of 16 in a 2-0 victory, then again against Uzbekistan in the quarter-finals, a 4-3 extra time win.  Left on the bench for the semi-finals against Vietnam, a 3-1 win for Korea, he returned for the final, playing all 120 minutes, as the Taeguk Warriors clinched back-to-back gold medals, having defended their title from four years ago on home soil.

He also recently earned his first senior call-up, debuting against Costa Rica in September, where he came off the substitutes' bench in a 2-0 triumph, and then notched his first senior goal against Panama during the last international break last month in a match that finished 2-2.  His future with the national team looks bright. 

Team MVP

While Asan have been graced by the presence of several great players this season, most of whom have returned to their clubs following the completion of their military service, the player who has stood out the most is Lee Myung-joo.

He was the statistical leader for Asan in terms of goals and assists this season, and was an important figure in clinching the title, scoring against Seoul E-Land in their victory to seal top honors, and then setting up Lim Chang-gyoon's equalizer in the final home match against Anyang, which would be the catalyst for their stunning comeback on the stroke of full time.

It is in fact difficult to point to just one player when naming an MVP because there were so many players who contributed to the club's success this season.  Manager Park Dong-hyuk can also take credit for a lot of what has happened this season, as he successfully kept the collective together under irregular circumstances.

Most Disappointing Player

Ko Mu-yeol was a player of whom much was expected this season, and to be sure, he got off to a good enough start, notching goals in back-to-back matches at home to Ansan Greeners and Suwon FC.  He would follow that up with goal-assist performances against Bucheon and Seongnam, the latter a 4-2 victory in June, but other than that, has mostly been non-existent.

He was suspended twice during the season due to card troubles, and proceeded to find the net only twice the rest of the season.  As a result of the decline in his production, he was not even named in the squad in three of the final four matches of the season.  Part of the reason for this could be that he was moved around quite a bit in attacking roles, playing as a central striker at times, and as a winger at others, but for a player who has the talent to be an offensive threat, his production should have been much higher.

Most Important Decision of the Off-Season

Asan's future is still hanging in the balance, as the club has now officially disbanded for failing to submit a recruitment plan by the November 19th deadline.  They will, however, continue with their efforts over the next few weeks to form a citizen team team with financial support from South Chungcheong province.  Having that in mind, there are still several players who must be accounted for.

Also up in the air is the status of Park Dong-hyuk.  Now the burning question is that of where he could end up next season, as there are already some notable coaching vacancies available with the season in K League 1 drawing to a close.  After what he achieved with Asan this season, it would be a shame to not see him on the sideline next year.

The K League Untied Podcast

In the latest edition of The K League United Podcast, we review all ten K League 2 teams in depth with the help of our writing staff. You can tune in using the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts or TuneIn Radio. You can also catch the show on Football Nation Radio, every Thursday at 5pm Sydney Time (3pm KST).

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