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Seoul E-Land FC: All or Nothing?


It has been a tedious and anxious couple of weeks for Seoul E-Land. Their last game of the normal season against Jeonnam Dragons in the K League 2 was supposed to be on the 7th of November. Yet here we are leading up the game on its new date of November 21st. The goal for the Leopards has been clear since the first game of the season. Now they are only one game away from making it back into the playoffs. The first time since their inaugural year back in 2015. Michael Redmond looks at what a playoff position could mean for Seoul moving forward, why the date has been changed, and what the implications could be if they fall at the final hurdle.  

The Leopard's and Dragon's recollection of 1982

A few weeks ago, it was made public that a Daejeon Hana Citizen player tested positive for COVID-19. As following the K League ruling for any player who was tested positive, the team was unable to play any games for a fortnight. At the time of the case, all teams pushing for the playoffs still had two games left to play. Gyeongnam, Seoul, and Jeonnam all played their respective games, but Daejeon now had a game in hand against Anyang. To add further problems, their final crunch game was against fellow promotion pushing side, Gyeongnam. 

The initial plan was for Seoul and Jeonnam to play out their last game of the season as intended on the 7th of November. However, with Daejeon playing Gyeongnam on the last game, both teams would have known what they needed to leapfrog over the Leopards and the Dragons. Some football historians or avid World Cup fans may know about the Disgrace of Gijón. Back in the 1982 World Cup, Algeria were in a group which also featured Austria, Chile, and West Germany. As Algeria played Chile the day before West Germany and Austria, West Germany knew they only needed to win by one goal to advance to the knockout stages of the cup and knock Algeria out. With the Austrian side already safe, West Germany scored in the first ten minutes. Then what followed was 80 minutes of very cautious and questionable football from both sides. Since then, all final games in the world cup group stages were to be played at the same time. This has also been the case for most leagues' final games of the season. 

Both Seoul and Jeonnam both felt uncomfortable about this not being the case this year, especially with Daejeon having two games to reclaim third place. So with great thought, the K League came to the decision to play the Seoul vs Jeonnam game at the same time as Daejeon vs Gyeonam on the 21st of November at 3pm. 

Seoul Are In The Driving Seat, For Now...

The league table (below) shows how close it is in the race for 3rd and 4th. Seoul are one point ahead of Jeonnam, and two ahead of Daejeon and Gyeongnam. If Daejeon drop points against Anyang midweek, then Seoul only needs a point to secure a playoff spot. If Daejeon wins midweek then Seoul can still go through with a draw, but they will also need Daejeon to get at the very least a draw against Gyeongnam. Seoul could technically still go through if they lose on Saturday. They would need Daejeon to lose to Anyang midweek, and their final game against Gyeongnam to end in a draw. 
It is still all to play for in the 2020 K League 2 (Photo Via Fotmob)

Believe me, Seoul being in 3rd place right now has no advantage for them whatsoever. Saturday is going to be an anxious 90 minutes for the Seoul faithful and they will also be watching Daejeon in bated breath midweek. Seoul and Anyang have made a rivalry of sorts over the last few years. Maybe on Tuesday, the Leopards will be pushing their rivalry aside for 90 minutes.   

Can Seoul Keep Their Talent?

Seoul currently has Lee Sang-min from Ulsan Hyundai. The centre back has missed one game this season, only due to his involvement in the Korean national team vs the U23 side. His loan ends with at the end of  December. They also have Ko Jae-hyun who has been exceptional for the Leopards since coming in the summer. His move is also only temporary and he is expected to be back in Daegu for the 2021 season. With Daegu playing ACL football once more, you may think they will call him back to give the squad more depth. He has also played incredibly well since his move to E-Land. 

The final loanee who also came in summer is Jang Yun-ho. This one could be bittersweet for Seoul fans. As the ACL and K League 1 winner with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors is set to also return by the end of the year. The 24-year-old has been brilliant in the middle of the park since joining. The added salt into the Leopard's wound is the fact that Jang Yun-ho has yet to complete his four-week basic mandatory military service. Even though he won the Asia Games back in 2018, the Korean will still need to do four weeks mandatory service. Jang Yun-ho booked his service time to be after the playoffs were finished. However, this was before the postponement of the Daejeon and Seoul games. This means that the 3rd and 4th playoff game and the final playoff game was also pushed back. Regardless of winning drawing or losing on Saturday, this could be his last game as a Leopard. He will be unavailable for the playoffs. 

The question is for Seoul is if they get promoted or even finish strong in the playoffs and bow out respectfully, can they keep these players for a little bit longer? Chung Jung-yong has shown that he gives the youth a lot of game time and other managers may want to look at Seoul E-Land as a club they can send their hot prospects to. Maybe the higher-ups at Ulsan, Jeonbuk, and Daegu may want them to stay a bit longer to improve their game further. Or maybe with Jang Yung-ho's case, he could move permanently. His position at Jeonbuk is taken now by Son Jun-ho, who is the 2020 K League 1 MVP. He will struggle to get take that position back.  
Leandro has lit up the K League 2 this year for Seoul E-Land. The question now is, can they keep him?
Also looking at contracted players, Leandro has been a shining star in the K League 2 this year. He signed a three and a half year contract in the summer to commit to Seoul for a further three seasons. This could also have been done for good business. Some K League 1 clubs are already taking note of Leandro and with the current climate of the world, they may prefer bringing in foreign players who are already in the country.

Regardless of how they finish this season, it has been a good year for Seoul E-Land. They have played exciting football and they have been playing as a team. They have also given a window for players to show their individual talents. Seoul's biggest task in the offseason may not be to improve the squad but to keep the one they already have.  


FNR

Seoul's Cup Final 

If you asked me last year where would Seoul E-Land be by the end of 2020. I would have laughed at you if you told me they were pushing for promotion. The way this team has improved both on and off the pitch over the year has been nothing short of incredible. It is clear to see some big changes have also happened on and off the pitch. The backing staff, the social media, the way they conduct themselves as a team in the community has massively improved. They have brought in sponsorships and partnerships which will only grow Seoul E-Land as a brand. 

Long gone are the days of two-hour bus rides to Cheonnam to watch a Seoul E-Land side that did not look bothered in the slightest. You can see the unity, you can feel the togetherness. It has been on their mind all year. They want a playoff position. If Seoul gets there, then there are only two games to glory. If you look at Seoul's manager Chung Jung-yong, he knows a thing or two about getting the best out of a side in knockout games. Just look at his incredible run in the U20 World Cup back in 2019. From Saturday onwards any game Seoul play is last chance saloon. They are cup games. They can not fold, they can not flop. We have seen Seoul this year play incredibly well and we have also seen them play very poorly. Seoul will need to bring their A-game if they are to mean business. It is fitting that last week, captain Kim Min-kyun came out on social media and said 'three games left'. It's posts like this that spur the fans on. It fills them with confidence and a sense of pride. 
It has been a different Seoul E-Land this year, from the one we saw in the 2019 K League 2 Season. 
2020 may mean that there is no chanting in the stadium in Jamsil on Saturday. However,  I am sure the Seoul E-Land faithful who have been through so much with the team, will make themselves known and push the team on the best they can. If you are in or around Seoul, you might want to get yourself a ticket. If you are going to be watching at home, you may just be on the edge of your seat for the majority of the game.  



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