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2019 Season Review: Asan Mugunghwa

It was already a foregone conclusion that Asan Mugunghwa would have a difficult campaign ahead of them in 2019 after winning K League 2 last season, with promotion to the top division taken away from them because of internal matters at the club which almost saw them completely fold as an organization.  Things looked good up until the late stages of the summer with the team in a playoff position almost the entire way, but once the core of the team left after the conclusion of their military service in August, the wheels completely fell off.  KLU's Branko Belan looks back on the season that was.

What Went Well

Up until the beginning of August, Asan stayed competitive in the league and had themselves in position for at least a spot in the playoffs.  How good their season had gone up to that point is referenced by the fact that by season's end, Ko Mu-yeol still finished among the league's leaders in goals with twelve, while Ju Se-jong finished among the best in assists with five.  

Asan was in the thick of things almost until the bitter end, despite their dipping form once their core twelve man group left midway through August upon the completion of their military service.  Park Dong-hyuk did his best to stay among the leading pack with so many new faces coming into the fold, and has done well to develop some of the new young talent along the way.  The good news is that there will indeed be football in Asan next season amidst fears that the club would not be able to make the transition to a citizen club, but despite missing the league deadline for submitting a proposal, it was eventually allowed to pass, and Asan will continue to write a new football chapter going into next season.  Despite their spotty home form this year, the club was fourth in terms of attendance numbers overall, behind the top three of Gwangju FC, Busan IPark, and FC Anyang.

What Didn't Go Well

Asan finished the season on a seven match winless streak, with their last win of the campaign coming against Jeonnam Dragons on September 23rd.  with Joseph Choi getting the winner in the 77th minute.  In that final span, they managed only six goals while conceding fifteen, and it spoke volumes about the amount of work that will need to be done in the off-season if the team is going to rebound to become a force once again next season.

After posting some very good defensive numbers last season, the former military club finished with a negative goal difference in double digits, something which will need to be addressed through the signing of new players and further development of the young crop of players which stepped in towards the end of the season.

There was too much of a dependence on players who were set to leave this season, and it cost them down the stretch.  Asan dropped too many points in 2019, especially on their home ground, which was definitely a surprise considering how much of an impact Yi Sun Shin Stadium had in their title run of a year ago.  Park Dong-hyuk is going to have to get back to the basics in the off-season and work on re-shaping an identity for the team.  

Young Player of the Year

Oh Se-hun helped the U-20 Korean team to the final of the World Cup in Poland this year.
Oh Se-hun scored seven goals and added four assists for Asan in 2019.

There is only one name in consideration here - Oh Se-hun.  He was a relative unknown at the beginning of the season, coming over on loan from Ulsan Hyundai after being part of their youth system.  In thirty matches this season, he registered seven goals and four assists, and was a star for South Korea at the U-20 World Cup in Poland, where the young Taeguk Warriors achieved something they had never done before, going all the way to the final of a FIFA men's tournament, where they were eventually beaten by Ukraine in the final.

His movement up the national ladder has been swift, and with a move to K League 1 next season where he will complete his military service with Sangju Sangmu, the upswing for his career has a lot of potential, especially considering that he is likely to get quite a bit of playing time in the first division next season.  He may not initially start, but should work his way into the rotation as the season progresses.

Team MVP

The most valuable player for Asan in this calendar year was none other than Ko Mu-yeol, whose twelve league goals had Mugunghwa in prime playoff position for most of the year.  It was quite a season for Ko in terms of output, considering he had only bagged four goals all of 2018.  

He scored a pair of hat-tricks for Asan this season, first against Bucheon 1995 FC in March, and then again versus Seoul E-Land in July, just weeks before departing for Jeonbuk Hyundai where he only made two appearances for the rest of the regular season, but has come on as a substitute twice against Pohang Steelers and FC Seoul in the Championship Round.  One thing remains certain, however - his departure left a massive void up front which will need to be filled in a big way if Asan are going to be among the goals again in 2020.

Most Disappointing Player

The most disappointing player for Asan this season was Lee Myung-joo.  Chosen as one of the team's captains at the start of the season, much was expected from him after he was such an integral part of Asan's championship run of a year ago.  However, he only wore the armband a handful of times and his numbers were well down from a year ago.

In nineteen appearances for Asan this year, he managed only two goals and one assist, after five goals and five assists last year and had some disciplinary issues as well getting booked with double yellows against FC Anyang in a 4-1 loss in mid July.  

There is good news for him, however, as he has been featuring regularly for FC Seoul since returning in the summer, and it looks like playing under Choi Yong-soo once again will steer his career back in the right direction.

Most Important Decision of the Off-Season

Asan finished a disappointing 7th after winning the K League 2 title last year.
Park Dong-hyuk will have a lot of work to do in the off-season.

It's a bit difficult to pinpoint how Asan is going to address matters in the off-season at the current time as it remains to be seen how active they will be in shoring up their roster for next year.

One thing they absolutely must do is to find a solution for their scoring woes up front.  Ko Mu-yeol took most of their firepower with him when he left, and Oh Se-hun will also be playing in the first division next season with Sangju.  

Park Dong-hyuk has done an admirable job developing young players for Asan over the past couple of years, but this team will need experience up front of they want to avoid a run which saw them fall out of the playoff picture in the final weeks of the race in 2019.  While it is fair to say that the outcome was inevitable, they must now take every opportunity to build the roster with quality talent which can not only help the club, but also continue to bring the newly minted rookies along.  There were several players who made their club debuts for Asan this season, and they will need a fair bit of guidance if Asan is going to be in the mix for the post-season a year down the road. 

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