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2019 Season Preview: Asan Mugunghwa

2019 Season Preview: Asan Mugunghwa K League 2
Last year's K League 2 champions, Asan Mugunghwa, come into the new season fortunate to be competing after the team was almost disbanded by the Police Agency last November.  Mugunghwa failed to submit a recruitment plan, but a decision was made by city council to keep the team intact, although they stand to lose a number of players at the end of the month.  The club has been busy bringing in new talent, mostly rookies and players joining on loan, but with a key nucleus of players left over from last season, and Park Dong-hyuk remaining at the helm, the team should still prove to be a competitive outfit in 2019.  KLU's Branko Belan looks ahead to the new campaign and what to expect.

Last Season

21 W, 9 D, 6 L, 1st place

What Happened?

Asan had an excellent season on the pitch, leading the league in wins, goals, and goal differential, with contributions coming from a host of players, including Ju Se-jong, Jo Seong-joon, Lee Myung-joo, and Ahn Hyun-beom.  Park Dong-hyuk's attacking mentality led to a consistency in play which saw Asan go unbeaten during a spell between May and August.  The equal distribution of production throughout the team was critical down the stretch in clinching top honors with two weeks remaining.

Things off the field did not fare as well, unfortunately.  Asan were under threat of being disbanded thanks to a decision taken by the Police Agency to do away with all sports teams, and that hit Asan hard, knowing that they would have more than several players leaving in the off-season.  A decision was finally reached in late December to include the team in K League 2 for the 2019 season.  The real work for the new season then began, as he named his new staff for the season this January ahead of the club's first training camp in Namhae. 

"The 2019 season has seemed hard to come by.  But, I feel that Asan is going in the right direction, and I feel good," he began.  

"We are teaming up with the coaches and players before the season and hope to show well both inside and outside the stadium.  I hope the new season will bring a lot of joy to people, as last year," he concluded.

Season Review: here

Notable Moves

The club lost the likes of Hwang In-beom and Park Ju-won, who returned to Daejeon Citizen, Kim Hyun, who returned to Jeju United, and Lee Ju-yong, who returned to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, all of whom completed their military service in the fall last year.  The club will be without another considerably sized group as their loan spells will have already expired, or are on the verge of doing so at the end of the month.  They are as follows:

Min Sang-gi, Kim Bu-kwan (Suwon Bluewings)
Koo Dae-young, Kim Min-kyun (FC Anyang)
Lee Yong (Gangwon FC)
Park Seon-yong (Pohang Steelers)
Kim Yeong-nam (Bucheon 1995)
Heo Beom-san (Jeju United)
Park Se-jik (Incheon United)
Jo Seong-joon (Gwangju FC)

Min Sang-gi was the team's captain last season and will be sorely missed, while Park Se-jik and Jo Seong-joon were key elements in attack.

The new faces which have come into the side are mostly rookies out of university and a few players on loan.  

Perhaps the biggest name to join Asan thus far in the off-season is Choi Jin-ho, who has played over 100 matches with Busan IPark, Gangwon FC, and Sangju Sangmu, scoring 28 goals with eleven assists in his career thus far.  He helped Gangwon gain promotion to K League Classic (now K League 1) in 2016, and then went to do his military service.

Key Player

Ju Se-jong in action during last season's final home match against FC Anyang.  His leadership will be counted on this season.  Photo via Asan Mugunghwa FC
Ju Se-jong: With so many pieces of the championship squad returning to their parent clubs this winter, his presence is both necessary and welcome with so many new faces coming into the fold.  

His leadership will be key to getting the best out of the young recruits, and his ability to anchor the midfield in a holding role will be critical as a new-look Asan will be working hard to establish a game similar to the one they played last season; one that was fast-paced and entertaining to watch, as the K League 2 champions produced some of the best football of any team in either of the two top leagues in the country in 2018.

Despite Korea's disappointing exit at the Asian Cup, Ju was regularly called into the action from the bench, and, although his performances did not stand out in terms of production, he was solid in the middle of the park for the Taeguk Warriors, and that valuable experience should translate well into acclimatizing the younger players to football at the senior level.

Young Player to Watch

Kim Reo and Oh Se-hoon join Asan from Ulsan Hyundai.  The hope is that the youngsters will make an impact for the club this season.  Photo via Asan Mugunghwa FC.
In fact, there are two young players who could have an impact with Asan this season who deserve consideration in this category, Oh Se-hoon and Kim Reo, who both came from Ulsan Hyundai.

Oh Se-hoon joined the senior team last year from the youth ranks.  The 20 year-old is quite tall for a forward at 193 centimeters and has drawn some comparisons to Jeonbuk Hyundai's Kim Shin-wook because of his size.  He played in several competitions for the U-17 and U-19 youth categories, and, in particular the AFC U-19 championship last year.

Kim Reo joined Ulsan at the same time as Oh from Ulsan University.  Last season, the 22 year-old played in the R League, where he notched nine goals and four assists in 18 appearances.  He is capable of playing multiple positions in attack, and scouts like his speed, power, and shooting ability.

Biggest Question

How will the team fare in 2019?

Off-season issues regarding whether the team were actually going to play this season, along with a number of last year's squad headed out the door beg the question of how competitive the defending champions will be this season.  They will still have the likes of Ju, Lee Myung-joo and Lee Han-saem as a backbone, with the latter two having already been named captain and assistant captain, respectively, but a lot will depend on tactics and how long it will take some of the new players to develop.

Another issue with this year's squad with that in mind is chemistry.  The current version of the team is a blend of young and experienced players, and, Park Dong-hyuk will have another challenge on his hands to get the best out of them as a unit.

The departures of Min Sang-gi, Park Se-jik and Jo Seong-joon will be particularly difficult to replace, and, with all the distractions threatening the club in the past several months, the turnaround before the beginning of the new season is short, so the first ten matches of the new campaign will give a good indication as to how far the club has come in training.  If anything, the club will at least be competitive, but it would be premature to think they could repeat last season.

Reason to Watch

The spirit for football in Asan is high, so there will be fans in the stands to watch a team that, only a few months ago was about to disappear.  Park Dong-hyuk is a very talented manager, both tactically and in terms of how he gets on with his players, so Asan should still manage to produce a decent product on the field, even if it means they will have to wait a year or two before challenging for the top of the league again.

The mere fact that Asan will be around in 2019 should garner interest from fans of the game in Korea, regardless of the club they support.  It has been a busy winter with new faces joining the club; the training regime in Namhae was a success, and everyone among the staff and players are looking forward to the new season with optimism.

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