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2018 Season Review: Daejeon Citizen

2018 Season Review: Daejeon Citizen K League 2
The 2018 season proved to be rather fruitful for Daejeon Citizen, certainly compared to last year. Finishing fourth and making it to the Promotion Playoff Final was something that few would have expected from the Purples at the beginning of the season. However, fledgling gaffer Ko Jongsoo and his young squad can look back on 2018 and feel proud of what they've achieved.

What Went Well

First and foremost, Daejeon Citizen made significant progress from that of their disastrous anniversary year in 2017. After last season’s disappointment of finishing at the bottom of the second tier, it was imperative that the Purples were seen as heading in the right direction this past season. Few would have expected a fourth-place finish and a stab at the playoffs but, credit to manager Ko Jongsoo and his staff, the former K League MVP delivered.

A controversial figure to some, Kim Ho took over as Daejeon Citizen CEO last winter. The former Korean National Team Manager, who also occupied the hot seat at Big Bird and Purple Arena, appointed the right man to lead Daejeon into a crucial period for the club.

2018 Season Review: Daejeon Citizen Ko Jong-soo

It’s rare in Korean football to have a genuine footballing man make football decisions at boardroom level but in Kim Ho, the 1997-founded club were afforded that luxury. Between Kim and Ko, Daejeon recruited well over the winter, bringing in young players with huge potential who went on to become key players for the team.

Park Inhyeok, Park Sooil, and Ko Myeongseok for example who consistently put in stellar performances in a Purple shirt are all either 23 or under. Citizen also showed nous when recruiting from overseas; Aurelian Chițu was named in the K League 2 Best XI, won the K League United New Comer of the Year Award, whilst Uzbek midfield duo Shohruh Gadoev and Sanzhar Tursanov both contributed enormously. It was a season of hope and one which gave the Purple Arena faithful something to smile about again.

What Didn’t Go Well

Making it to the K League 2 Promotion Playoff Final would suggest that not an awful lot went wrong on the pitch for Daejeon this season. However, whilst Daejeon did recruit well over the winter, they did so by accumulating a huge squad. Nearly 60 players were given squad numbers for the 2018 season but 26 of those 60 played just 10 games or less and 16 did not feature at all. Daejeon didn't have a reserve team in 2017 and so a lot of young players were brought to play in the club's second string based on their potential.

That said, Daejeon’s recruitment policy was somewhat scatter-gun in its approach and will have left the club with a sizeable wage bill. Despite bringing in the likes of Ahn Jaejoon, Baek Jonghwan, Oh Jangeun, Filip Hlohovsky, and Park Suchang, who made just 24 appearances between them, Daejeon lacked experience in certain areas of the pitch.

Ko Jongsoo had a good first XI, but only a handful of players that he could rely on to come into the team when called upon. Daejeon’s young team needed guidance in big matches, the Promotion Final away to Busan IPark being the prime example. Daejeon were without vice captain Ahn Sanghyeon through injury and with Oh Jangeun, the club captain, ruled out for most of the season due to fitness concerns, the Purples turned to young centre half Yun Kyungbo to fill in. The Purples were overran and a looked little shell-shocked down at the Gudeok that afternoon. For a squad so vast, Daejeon ought to have had other options to fill in in key areas of the pitch.

Young Player of the Season

With such a young squad, there are a good number of candidates for Young Player of the Season. Centre back, Ko Myeongseok, central midfielder-turned-fullback Park Sooil, and forward Park Inhyeok would be the front-runners with notable mentions for central midfielder Kang Yunsung.

Whilst Ko Myeongseok ought to have been in the K League 2 Best XI, not to mention named as the K League United K2 Defender of the Year in the recent Editor’s Choice podcast episode, the 23 year-old has K League experience under his belt already having played 28 times for Bucheon FC 1995 last season.

2018 Season Review: Daejeon Citizen Park Soo-il

And so, having made the step up from the National League, Park Sooil should take the prize home with him after a truly impressive first season as a full-time professional. Daejeon suffered a bit of a rocky start to the campaign, winning just once in their first five matches in all competitions. As Ko Jongsoo searched for his best XI, Park Sooil was given the nod in central midfield in the FA Cup 3rd Round tie away to Seongnam. Daejeon lost that evening but put in a spirited performance with Park making enough of an impact to kept his place in the team ever since. The 22 year-old went on to make 32 league appearances, 31 from the start - the second highest in the team behind Ko Myeongseok.

Park’s versatility proved useful for manager Ko Jongsoo as, despite initially cementing his place in central midfield, the former Gimhae City youngster was shifted to full-back where he continued to make a positive contribution. By the end of the season, Park had racked up nine assists, one behind Busan IPark’s Rômulo who finished the season on 10.

Team MVP

Aurelian Chițu finished the season as Daejeon’s top goal scorer with 13 goals and that’s exactly how many points the Romanian’s goals have added to the Purples’ tally this term. His goals have been the difference in turning defeats into draws and draws into wins on no fewer than six occasions. Furthermore, the 27 year-old bagged the opener during Citizen's 3-0 win over Bucheon, the team's first win after three straight losses, as well as the winner against Gwangju in the Promotion Playoff Semifinal.

The versatile forward, who has one Romanian Liga 1 and one Romanian Super Cup medal whilst with Viitorul, fitted in well at Purple Arena on and off the pitch. There was a good team spirit there at Daejeon and Chițu was very much a part of that.

2018 Season Review: Daejeon Citizen Aurelian Chițu

Most Disappointing Player

For one reason or another, Filip Hlohovsky played a mere three league games for Daejeon last season. The former Seongnam forward had been part of a MŠK Žilina side which won the Slovakian Super Liga whilst scoring 20 goals in the process in 2016/2017, joined Seongnam last year.

In 13 starts for Seongnam in 2017, the 30 year-old bagged four goals and an assist and so, upon arriving at Purple Arena before the start of the 2018 season, Hlohovsky was seen as somewhat of a marquee signing, certainly appearing to have the pedigree to be in important player for the Purples. However, playing time for Hlohovsky was extremely limited and, according to sources close to the player at the time, the Slovakian wasn’t absent through injury either.

Another winter signing from Seongnam, one of four, was Oh Jangeun. The 33 year-old defensive midfielder is a former Korean international who had spent six years with Suwon Bluewings and, although had suffered with injuries, was earmarked as a calm head to sit in front of the back four and was named as club captain. However, Oh’s time on the pitch in a Daejeon shirt was restricted to just six appearances, only four of which were from the start. Instead, it was another former Seongnam man who stepped in in his absence, Ahn Sanghyeon.

Most Important Decision for the Off Season

What needs to be remembered is that the 2018 season was a successful one, and one that saw the Purples enjoy their best season at this level since their first in 2014. And so, whilst it could be easy to feel disheartened about missing out on promotion, the powers that be at Purple Arena should be looking to strengthen - to build.

But, in order to build, Daejeon need to keep hold of their best players. Aurelian Chițu, Park Inhyeok, Park Sooil, Ko Myeongseok, Shohruh Gadoev and Sanzhar Tursanov would fall into that category. If Daejeon can keep hold of these, as well as manager Ko Jongsoo, then there is a foundation from which to build from for 2019.

Daejeon also need significantly reduce the size of the playing squad and recruit wisely before the start of next season. It would perhaps be assumed that the likes of Cho Yechan, Nam Junjae, Hwang Jaewon, Cho Taegeun, Filip Hlohovsky, Kim Chanhee, Baek Jonghwan, Oh Jangeun, Ahn Jaejoon, Park Suchang and perhaps even Jang Wonseok will be moved on during the winter. This should free up space on the wage bill to add some more quality and experience to the team.

The K League United 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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