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2020 Season Preview: Sangju Sangmu FC

Sangju Sangmu exceeded expectations in 2019 with Kim Tae-wan leading a hard-working and well drilled team to a solid seventh placed finish. Having lost the bulk of their squad this winter and with a host of new recruits arriving, Sangju could be an entirely different proposition this season, but a restructuring of the club means that Sangju face automatic relegation at the end of the season. Coach Kim will once again look to get the best out of his conscripted squad in 2020 - but how will this new-look team fare with so little to play for?

Last Season

16W-7D-15L, 7th

What Happened?

Sangju Sangmu were widely expected to be in a relegation dogfight last year, with some of their key players exiting the club midway through the season. By the time the likes of Yoon Bit-garam and Kim Min-woo departed, however, Sangju were already well clear of the danger zone and were closer to breaking into the top four than being sucked into a relegation scrap.

Kim Tae-wan assembled a solid first eleven built around the talents of Yoon and Kim, along with the steady presence of centre back Kwon Wan-kyu, goalkeeper Yoon Bo-sang, and top scoring speedster Park Yong-ji. Sangju hovered around mid-table for most of the season, only narrowly missing out on a place in the top half of the split. In the end they finished seven points clear of eighth-placed Suwon Bluewings, racking up a club record tally of 55 points. They also went close to silverware, making the semi-finals of the FA Cup before being knocked out by Daejeon Korail.

[READ: 2019 Season Review: Sangju Sangmu]

Notable Moves

It's all change for Sangju this season, with a large number of 2019's squad finishing their military service to return to their parent clubs. Among the long list of departures are keeper Yoon Bo-sang, centre back Kwon Wan-kyu, midfielder Lee Gyu-seong, and forwards Park Yong-ji and Kim Gun-hee. The latter two will be especially missed, as they contributed 20 league goals between them in 2019.

Jeonbuk duo Moon Seon-min and Kwon Kyung-won are the two biggest names to join Sangju this year.
The good news for Kim Tae-wan is that a batch of 16 new recruits have arrived to bolster his squad. Among them are a duo from Jeonbuk, defender Kwon Kyung-won and winger Moon Seon-min, both of whom have been involved with the national team in recent years. Former Ulsan left back Lee Myung-jae and defensive midfielder Park Yong-woo are also signed up, as well as young striker Oh Se-hoon, who impressed recently in Korea's victorious U23 campaign.

Key Player 

Moon Seon-min

Former Jeonbuk winger Moon could be a prize asset for this Sangju team. Moon enjoyed an encouraging debut season for the K League 1 champions last year, racking up ten goals and nine assists after transferring from Incheon United. He has pace to burn and his decision making and end product - which are usually considered his weaknesses - are still far superior to your average K League winger.

Moon represented Korea at the 2018 World Cup and has been in and out of national team squads since. For Jeonbuk he was one part of a star-studded squad, but he still found room to shine. For Sangju he will be the main man in attack, and it could be a huge year for the 27 year-old.

Young Player to Watch

Oh Se-hoon

21 year-old striker Oh started his professional career at Ulsan, but he really made an impact last year with Chungnam Asan (then Asan Mugunghwa). Oh made 30 appearances and scored seven goals for an average Asan team, and his exploits at national team level have been just as impressive. He scored twice at the U20 World Cup in Poland last year, and twice more in January's AFC U23 Championship, in which he was largely preferred over Jeonbuk's Cho Gyu-sung up front.

Towering at 193cm and boasting a fierce shot, Oh Se-hoon looks to have a bright future ahead. 2020 could be the year that he comes of age in the K League 1.

Biggest Question 

Can Kim Tae-wan replicate last season's success with a transformed squad?

Kim Tae-wan earned plaudits last year for getting the best out of his team. He tended to prefer a fixed starting line-up, only making changes sparingly. His players knew their roles back-to-front and they excelled in Kim's system, but this year will almost be like starting again from scratch. Although some of last year's squad remain - notably midfielders Ryu Seung-woo and Song Seung-min, winger Kang Sang-woo, and defender Kim Jin-hyeok - the squad has undergone a huge turnover in personnel.

With 16 new players in the ranks, Kim will have to work quickly to get the new players up to speed. He is likely to ease many of them into the starting lineup, but he will also need the key recruits like Moon Seon-min and Kwon Kyung-won to hit the ground running. This season Sangju once again have a squad that can compete in the K1, but how long will it take for the players to click?

It will also be interesting to see how motivated the squad is. No matter how well the team plays, the players know the club will be relegated; is there enough incentive for this team to perform and grind out results?

Reason to Watch 

Sangju Sangmu is a great club for the neutral supporter, as players from across the K League come together to carry out their military service. For the best part of two years a group of players are forced to essentially put aside their club career ambitions in order to serve their country, but it's always humbling to see the attitude and togetherness that forms under Kim Tae-wan's leadership.

Last year Sangju broke their record points tally; this year they will look to repeat the feat with a new set of hungry players. In Moon Seon-min they have one of Korea's best wingers, in Kwon Kyung-won one the country's best defenders. With a supporting cast featuring a patchwork collection of some of the K League's most talented players, don't expect this side to roll over. Although automatic relegation looms at the end of the year, Kim Tae-won won't allow his players to go down without a fight.

Sangju Sangmu have the potential to be every K League supporter's second favourite team in 2020 - and they could entertain and surprise a few folks along the way.

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