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2021 Suwon FC Season Preview

Suwon FCFresh off the back of a historic promotion that was clinched in dramatic circumstances, Suwon FC are set to compete in K League 1 for just the second time in their history. KLU's Todd Wilde previews the citizen club's upcoming campaign, as coach Kim Do-kyun rolls the dice ahead of an exciting year for the team's supporters.

Last Season

17W-3D-7L, 2nd in K League 2 (Promoted via Playoffs)

Video Preview:

What Happened?

Suwon FC went into 2020 cautiously optimistic, setting a target of promotion that was widely scoffed at as unrealistic by many pundits. The introduction of former Ulsan Hyundai assistant coach Kim Do-kyun as manager galvanised a previously tired squad, as he transformed the team's fortunes without making widespread changes to the squad. 
Kim Do-kyun
Kim Do-kyun deserves the adulation for a successful 2020 season
A side that appeared slow and laboured under former coach Kim Dae-eu gained the adoration of neutrals as a dynamic, relentless attacking unit, particularly in the first half of the season. Suwon would utilise a high press to try and win the ball up the pitch, quickly progressing the ball into shooting positions before the opposition had a chance to regroup. This style of play evolved over the second half of the season, as Suwon was forced to take the onus to break down less capable sides. Though the team lost some fluidity, winning six of their last eleven league games by a single goal, they secured second position in the league at a canter, finishing fifteen points clear of the third placed side.
The citizen side faced their biggest test against an impressive Gyeongnam FC side in the K League 2 playoff final. Outplayed for much of the match, it appeared that the Dashers would fall short at the final hurdle, as they trailed 1-0 to an early Choi Jun goal. However, there would be drama in the very last moments of the season, as Suwon FC were controversially awarded a penalty through a contentious VAR call. Han Jeong-woo was adjudged to have been brought down in the box, despite appearing to go down under very minimal contact.

It seemed appropriate that the league's top scorer An Byong-jun would rescue Suwon FC's season, coolly dispatching a 100th minute penalty to send a socially distanced capacity crowd into raptures, giving his side the draw they needed to secure promotion. Suwon FC were promoted to K League 1 for just the second time in their history.

Suwon FC coach Kim has opted to shuffle the pack for their return to the top tier. Of the seven players to have played the most minutes in 2020, five have left the club. Most notably, K League 2 MVP An Byong-jun, who scored 20 league goals in addition to his playoff winner against Gyeongnam, has joined Busan IPark for a nominal fee after the club opted to not re-sign the North Korean international. Additionally, Suwon FC's board have decided to cash in on the high stock of Japanese youngster Masatoshi Ishida, who has been sold to Gangwon FC after a breakthrough season up front (10 goals, 4 assists). These two players accounted for 61% of the team's goals in the 2020 season.
An Byong-jun
An Byong-jun's 20 goal haul in the regular season earned him K League 2 MVP honours in 2020

The citizen club have also lost three of their starting back four from last season, including right back Lee Ji-hoon and centre-back Lee Han-saem, who have both joined rivals Gwangju FC, whilst skilful midfielder Marlone has been released by the club.

Park Joo-ho
Park Joo-ho, arguably the best known of Suwon's group of veteran signings
To replace these established starters, the club has turned to experience, signing five players over the age of thirty. Centre back Yun Young-sun, former Borussia Dortmund left back Park Joo-ho, and newly named captain Jeong Dong-ho have all joined from Ulsan Hyundai to shore up the defence. At the other end of the pitch, former Incheon winger Kim Ho-nam and 34 year old Seongnam striker Yang Dong-hyen were regular starters for their teams in 2020. 
Han Seung-gyu
Han Seung-gyu in action for FC Seoul in 2020
Arguably Suwon's most impressive signing of the window is Han Seung-gyu, who has joined on loan from Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. The 24 year old picked up three goals and two assists in his last eight appearances last season on loan at FC Seoul, and is capable of playing both on the wing and in an advanced midfield role. He is joined by fellow Jeonbuk departure Murilo and Gangwon midfielder Lee Yeong-jae, both useful attacking options that will push for a starting berth.

Young Player to Watch

Whilst Suwon FC have been aggressive in their recruitment of experienced talents, the team's hierarchy have elected to not sign a proven talent that was born after 1st January 1999. Somewhat inexplicably, Suwon FC have only four players eligible to play under the U22 rule, including two signings from the U-League. Given that the K League 1 has changed their rules on substitutions to require the use of two U22 players in order to make five substitutions, this seems like a clear oversight by the team's backroom staff.
Twenty year old goalkeeper Min Dong-hwan has joined on a season long loan from Ulsan Hyundai, and is perhaps the most likely player to get minutes under the U22 rule. The South Korean youth international is untried in professional football, but comes highly rated at his parent club.

Key Player 

One player that was a mainstay in the side last season was Kim Geon-ung. The UIsan Hyundai academy product started 26 games after joining from Jeonnam Dragons, and was a lynchpin for the side in defensive midfield. Possessing great awareness and excellent anticipation off the ball, Kim is an accomplished passer in the centre of the park, and comfortable in the air, largely thanks to his 188cm height. A member of the 2018 Asian Games side that won a gold medal in Jakarta, the 23 year old has already earned an exemption from military duty, and will be hoping to confirm his ability as a K League 1 calibre midfielder after two strong seasons in the second tier.

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Biggest Question 

Have Suwon made a mistake by making so many changes to the squad?
Suwon FC have gone into the season with a rationale that the club must make wholesale changes to the squad in order to compete at the highest level. Whilst there is a valid argument to be made that 2019 K League 2 playoff winners Busan IPark failed to strengthen sufficiently last season, leading to their relegation, there is evidence that this episode was an outlier amongst recently promoted clubs.
Gwangju FC (6th in 2020) and Seongnam FC (9th in 2019) comfortably amassed enough points to stay in K League 1 without making wholesale changes to their squad. Furthermore, Gyeongnam FC finished second in 2018, qualifying for the AFC Champions League as league MVP Marcao went on to claim the top division's Golden Boot. 
Considering that 2019 K League 2 Golden Boot winner Felipe scored 38% of his side's goals for Gwangju last season despite receiving limited service, it is puzzling that the club didn't push harder to re-sign top scorer An Byung-jun, irrespective of any injury concerns around the forward. The decision to radically overhaul the squad has clearly irked some players, with Park Min-kyu - one of the outstanding fullbacks in K League 2 last season - deciding he was better off pushing for a season long loan to Busan rather than sitting behind part-time TV star Park Joo-ho in the pecking order. 
Park Min-kyu
Park Min-kyu was dependable last season, but will be unavailable in 2021
There is also the consideration that new players usually take time to settle into a new side, and with such a high volume of turnover, it will be impossible to slowly integrate new signings into the team. The counter argument is that coach Kim Do-kyun knows many players well from his days as a coach at Ulsan Hyundai, therefore he is capable of getting the most out of his new charges quickly. Kim's performance in the dugout will likely be judged on whether he can quickly settle the side's incoming stars into the starting line-up.

Reason to Watch 

Can the team succeed where they failed in 2016?
In their only previous season in the top flight, Suwon FC were automatically relegated as they finished bottom of the table on 39 points, six points adrift of safety. On this occasion, the team were competitive and exciting, racking up ten victories including a famous 5-4 victory over cross-city rivals Suwon Samsung Bluewings, but were ultimately relegated due to a lack of consistent goalscoring - their 40 goals the fewest in the division.
The Dashers only won four games at home all season in 2016. If they are to succeed in 2021, the team will need to take inspiration from nearby Hwaseong Fortress and make their Suwon Sports Complex home a stronghold that away teams detest visiting. It will be interesting to see whether the team's collection of veteran signings will have the legs to carry the side to safety, or if Suwon FC will live to regret releasing so many players in the off season.

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