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Interview: The ''Smiling Assassin'' of FC Edmonton, Son Yongchan

Edmonton FC Son Yongchan

2019 saw the Canadian Premier League launched to much success, highlighting a number of new teams and players to fans across the country. One of the players who stood out in the league's inaugural season was Korean midfielder Son Yongchan. Son spoke with K League United contributor Marc-Élie Guay about his career so far, his life in Canada and his objectives for 2020.

Son Yongchan's route into football varies from his fellow countrymen, with the player opting to move overseas early into his professional career in order to develop himself further. Prior to Son's move to Canadian Premier League's FC Edmonton in 2019, the 28-year-old midfielder from Jinju previously played three years with Ceres FC (Philipines) from 2014 to 2016, Tampines Rovers FC (Singapore) in 2017 and Ozone FC (India) in 2018.

With the current season postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Son and his teammates are now waiting for their second campaign to begin. Catching up with the midfielder in pre-season, we spoke to him about how his path has varied and where he sees himself going in the future.

Marc-Élie Guay: Having played your professional career to date overseas, some of our Korea-based readers might not be overly familiar with you. How would you describe yourself both on and off the field?

Son Yongchan: I would call myself a challenge enjoyer or lover of football and outside football. Since I’ve been playing in different countries, I have always had to adapt not only to their football style but also to their culture and lifestyle. It is a challenge for many people so I say this. If I do not enjoy these as challenges (accepting or understanding their culture in football and life), I would not be able to survive and play in different countries like the Philippines, Singapore, India, and Canada.

Son Yongchan in action vs Winnipeg Valour FC. (Image via Son Yongchan)

MG: You started playing at the age of 11 years old, which some may consider late. What was it that made you take up soccer?

SY: My story started differently compared to many other players’. Before I started soccer, I was doing archery. Since I was young, my father always wanted me to be a soccer player so I transferred to a school which had a soccer team.

MG: Were there any players or role models that inspired you when you were young?

SY: During the 2002 FIFA World Cup, all of the Korean world cup players were considered by many as heroes back home. It was Lee Youngpyo and Park Jisung that became my constant inspiration.

MG: You played soccer at the International University of Korea in Jinju. Once you were done with University you then decided to go abroad. Can you elaborate on that choice? Was there any desire to play in Korea?

SY: I was not part of the university soccer team in my last year at the university. Usually, in Korea, players join the professional teams after they graduate from the university team, except those who are already good enough to play as a pro. To be honest, I was not that of a special player who can be a pro during that time. However, I saw many of my senior teammates who graduated were not able to get signed with professional teams or even getting trials so I wanted to challenge myself earlier. I walked out of the university soccer team and tried to go to tryouts. However, the real world was not the same as I thought. I made lots of calls to the teams and submitted applications to open trials. I wasn’t able to get the results I wanted. I could only get a chance to play for the K3 teams so I postponed my desire to play as a pro in Korea.

MG: You played three years in the Philippines for Ceres. What is soccer culture like there? Are there any players that K League clubs should be keeping an eye out for?

SY: Ceres FC is quite a unique team, particularly because we were always winning the titles and the players who play for Ceres FC are the best players in the Philippines. A lot of the players are half-Filipino who grew up and played abroad when they were young as well as for the Philippine National Men's Team. In my view, Manuel Ott and Stephan Schröck definitely can play at K League level. Both of them played against the South Korean National Team in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and they played well.
Son Yongchan in action versus Halifax Wanderers. (Image via Son Yongchan)

MG: You’re now part of the FC Edmonton team in a brand-new league in Canada. What made you decide to participate in the #GotGame Trials in Toronto for a league that had not even started yet?

SY: I have been observing Canadian Soccer since 2017 when I was in Singapore. but there was no league at that time. I heard a lot of rumours that they might launch a brand new professional league in 2019. I’ve been playing in Asia quite some time; hence, I wanted to have a new challenge at a new place I never been to. For this reason, I came to the #GotGame Trials organized by CanPL (Canadian Premier League). I saw the chance for me to be in a new country and league.

[Read: Koreans Overseas - Across The World]

MG: You have lived in Canada for a while now. What do you like most about the lifestyle here and the club?

SY: I like the nature in Canada, especially that Alberta has the Rocky Mountains. The lifestyle is more relaxed here and due to the cold weather in the winter season, we have 4 months of the off-season so I have a lot of time to develop myself in diverse areas.

MG: Having had time to look back on FC Edmonton’s first season in the CanPL, how do you think the team fared? What areas will the side be hoping to improve on in 2020?

SY: I think our team did the best that we could. The first CanPL season is the first, so there was a lot of learning made. All the teams knew nothing about each other (personality, uniqueness, tactics, and the like). This year, everyone has an idea of how teams will approach the game. The teams will also start to have a clearer identity. Regarding improvement, I think there’s no such thing as areas to improve. I don’t want to nitpick on a specific matter. I don’t just decide to improve on one thing. I try to improve on everything. It may not be as much improvement as the other, but at the least, everything can become better. So for the team, I am just looking forward to us to be generally better and improved than we were last year.

Son Yongchan greetings fans with his famous smile. (Image via Son Yongchan)
MG: Can you tell me about the nickname given to you by supporters, the "Smiling Assassin"? Where did it originate?

SY: I try to smile most of the time in any circumstance so they always see me smiling. However, I try to be like an assassin on the field so I was named one when I was playing in Singapore. I love this nickname.

MG: Many were naturally excited about the start of the second season of CanPL until the league had to be postponed due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. As an athlete, what are you doing to keep in shape until the start of the training camp?

SY: I try to be more resourceful at home. I use what’s available in my house to aid my exercise routine. I also always eat healthily. I watch my diet and I always try my best to be fit by not skipping personal training. I invested in exercise equipment like resistance bands and a pull-up bar, and I also do yoga.

MG: When the 2020 season does finally get underway, have you set yourself any personal objectives for the campaign?

SY: First of all, I had a toe injury for more than three months last year which caused me to miss almost half of the games of the 2019 season. I want to play most of the games healthily without injury. Secondly, I played many different positions last season but I want to play in a position that I am most confident so that I can show the best side of me. Lastly, at the end of the season, I want to be selected in the best XI of the CanPL 2020 season.

K League United would like to once again thank Son Yongchan for taking the time to be interviewed. You can follow Son on Twitter, Instagram or through his website. You can also follow FC Edmonton on Twitter.

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