Ansan Greeners had a season to remember under former head coach, Lim Wan-seop in 2019, ending the Year of the Pig in fifth place; agonisingly missing out on a playoff spot by a single point. Jang Hyeok-jin left the Green Wolves in the off-season and will be sorely missed. The crafty playmaker, who registered twelve assists last year, has joined Gyeongnam FC. Gustavo Vintecinco has also exited the club after completing his move to Busan IPark. New boss, Kim Gil-sik will be hoping that his new forward recruits can fill the gaps. One of the Green Wolves’ latest additions, Kim Ryun-do, is the man tasked with finding the back of the net for the club this year. The 28-year-old has made the switch from Bucheon FC 1995, where he bagged six goals on top of an equal number of assists in the second tier last season.
Lee In-jae was a rock in the heart of Ansan’s backline last season; playing in all thirty-six league games and is sure to be a key player this term. The no-nonsense centre-half has been at the club since the Greeners’ inception in 2017, and captained the Wa~ outfit with regularity throughout Lim Wan-seop's tenure in Lee Hee-seong’s absence. Lee, who stands at six-foot-two, is both commanding in the air and strong in the tackle. The Greeners board have seemingly put their faith in youth during the close season. The appointment of former South Korea U-15 manager, Kim Gil-sik, at 41-years-old came out of left field and was a surprise to many within the game. Given the Greeners' financial restraints, and the amount of comings and goings, sixth place ought to be a realistic target for the 2020 campaign.
It was a surprise run to the playoffs for FC Anyang last season led by the dynamic three-pronged attack of Alex Lima, Manuel Palacios, and K League 2 Young Player of the Year Cho Gue-sung. The three helped Anyang to 63 goals, one of their best finishes in history, and a playoff win against Bucheon FC 1995. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all three are now gone. Palacios has bolstered an already strong Pohang Steelers side while Cho Gue-sung has made the transfer to perennial K League 1 title-favourites Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors after a stellar AFC U23 Championship. Looking to replace some of the 38 goals those three combined for last season, the Violets have brought in Uzbekistan National Teamer Khurshid Giyosov, Brazilian forward Maurides, and Bucheon player of the year Nilson Jr. The trio aren’t likely to do what Alex, Palacios, and Cho did in 2019, but they may not need to as the team seems set to play on the counter even more than they did a season ago.
Much like last year, the midfield will be the key to Anyang’s success as Lee Jeong-bin signed a permanent deal after his loan from Incheon United expired, and youngster Maeng Sung-ung seems set to take on a more advanced role after success with the U23s. With so much attacking talent in front of him last year, Lee Jeong-bin focused more on transitions and adapting to his ever-changing midfield teammates. This season, however, he should be able to bound forward with more authority and improve on the four goals he scored in 2019. Similarly, the addition of Nilson Jr. to the backline should allow 22-year-old Maeng Sung-ung to move out of the defensive position he had last season and into the more attacking role he had with the U23s in Thailand. Should those two hit the ground running and chip in a fair few goals, then Anyang may well find themselves back in the playoffs.
Bucheon FC 1995
Bucheon FC 1995's run to the play-offs last season seems to have been noticed by other clubs and a lot of their key players have left. Captain Park Gun left to Paju Citizen, vice-captain Lim Dong-hyuk to Jeju United, promising youngster Kim Jae-woo to Daegu FC, Player of the Year winner and top scorer Nilson Junior to FC Anyang, second-highest goalscorer Marlon de Jesus also left, as did Kim Ryun-do to Ansan Greeners. Many players have been brought in with the attack having a complete makeover. It looks like a strong possibility that Bucheon will be lining up with a front three, consisting of new signings Suh Myeong-won from Gangwon, Lee Hyun-il on loan from Seongnam and William Barbio from Brazilian third-tier side AD Confiança.
The key player of this season is likely to be one of the remaining players from last season: midfielder and new vice-captain Cho Beom-seok. Cho was an integral part of Bucheon's late-season winning run after he returned from his civil service. Bucheon will be hoping to reach the play-offs again but after the strong transfer activity from clubs such as Jeju United, Gyeongnam, Daejeon Hana Citizen, and Seoul E-Land, a more realistic target will be to aim for a mid-table finish and use it as a springboard for a promotion push next year
Chungnam Asan FC enters 2020 for the first time as a citizen club. Armin Mujakic became the first foreign signing in the club’s history this winter. The 24-year-old former Austrian youth international spent last season in the Belgian second division with Lommel SK. He is also a product of the Rapid Wein youth system. Lee Ki-hyun took over the starter’s role between the sticks following the final exodus of military players last August. There will be a lot of pressure on him to keep the new club in matches as it is expected they will go through considerable growing pains in their first season.
While Park Dong-hyuk was able to lead Asan Mugunghwa to a league title in 2018, things have changed considerably since then. Expectations are not high for them in 2020, but they do have some talented squad players in Park Se-jik and Jang Soon-hyeok. A finish in the lower half of the table would be best to expect, with a focus on building depth for seasons to come.
Daejeon Hana Citizen
Daejeon Hana Citizen, fresh from a takeover by Hana Financial Group, will be targeting promotion in 2020. Under new manager Hwang Sun-hong, Daejeon have been extremely active in the transfer market and have brought in a number of quality players meaning that a repeat of last year's 9th-place finish is highly unlikely Park Yong-ji, who scored 12 goals in K League 1 for Sangju Sangmu last year, as well as Bruno Baio who bagged 10 in 16 for Jeonnam Dragons, will be expected to lead the line. At the opposite end of the pitch, Korean international goalkeeper Kim Dong-jun has also joined, as has former Incheon United and Pohang Steelers defensive midfielder Connor Chapman. The acquisition of Chapman represents a huge statement of intent by the club, given the Australian’s pedigree and a stellar record in K League 1 from 2017 to 2018. In that screening midfield role, Chapman is sure to be a key player for the Purples.
The appointment of Hwang Sun-hong as manager is also a statement of intent. Hwang has two K League titles and two FA Cup triumphs on his resume and will be determined to prove that what happened at FC Seoul was a mere blip. Under Hwang, Daejeon will be targeting promotion to K League 1 by any means necessary but will see themselves as favourites to seal a second K League 2 title.
To try and guide Gyeongnam back to the top flight, Suwon FC captain Baek Sung-dong arrived to add creativity and a directness to the midfield. Ansan Greeners’ player of the year Jang Hyeok-jin moved south to also add some quality in the midfield areas. He was the Greeners leading assist maker last campaign and was their key man. Experienced winger Hwang Il-su was a real coup, pipping fellow K League 2 side Daejeon Hana Citizen from under their noses for his signature. He adds real pace on the wing and has been a good player for K League 1 outfit Ulsan Hyundai for many seasons.
The Reds’ key player will be Uroš Đerić who at six-foot-five inches tall will be a test for any defence in the league. He finished as the second-highest goal-scorer in K League 1 two seasons ago and he bagged nine goals in seventeen games last campaign for Gyeongnam. The Reds’ target this season is simple: promotion back to K League 1. The squad have lost a few key players due to relegation but they have also strengthened in vital areas very well to go full tilt for a promotion challenging campaign.
There has been quite a lot of movement in the off-season following the club’s relegation from division one. The most notable move is the addition of new manager Nam Ki-il, who comes over from Seongnam FC. Joo Min-kyu joined the club from Ulsan Hyundai and is already being touted as the islanders’ number one option up top for the 2020 season. Valentinos Sielis made the move from Gangwon FC. He is capable of playing multiple positions and boasts Europa League experience thanks to stints in his native Cyprus with AEL Limassol and Anorthosis Famagusta.
Lee Chang-min was arguably Jeju’s best player last year. He was named captain of the squad for 2020. He has great shooting ability and is not afraid to show it off, but must also look to get his teammates involved more this season if they are going to function well together as a group.
After a dreadful campaign in 2019, it can be said that a lot of positive changes have been made both in terms of coaching and personnel at the club, and with a favourable schedule to open the season, it would not be a surprise for them to get off to a quick start.
The most notable move for Jeonnam Dragons is top scorer Bruno Baio moving to Daejeon Hana Citizen FC. Jeonnam have brought in a number of youth players from universities and high schools around the country, so it remains to be seen if any of them can replicate the striker’s form and add some much-needed firepower. It’s too early to really say who will be instrumental in the Dragons new-look team, but hopes will be pinned on new Brazilian signing Rodolfo, who will most likely play a creative role linking midfield and attack. The Dragons lacked goals last season, so the fans will be hoping the Brazilian can provide plenty of assists. Jeonnam surely see themselves as one of the big teams of the division, so a realistic, and minimal, target will be the playoff positions. However, with a team that’s gone through so much change in such a short period of time, it will be crucial to get off to a good start to achieve that aim.
Seoul E-Land will look to improve from the previous year's performance in K League 2. Seoul E-Land said goodbye to 22 players in the transfer window, with the most noticeable player being Kim Young-kwang. The veteran goalkeeper spent five years in the capital, and their new number one will be Kim Hyeong-gyun from Busan IPark. Another noticeable move is Lee Sang-min from Ulsan Hyundai. The 22-year-old was the captain of the victorious Korea Republic side in the U23 Asian Championships in January. Seoul E-Land has also filled out their foreign quota with the signings of Leandro from Brazil, Richard Sukuta-Pasu from Germany, and Lazar Arsić from Serbia. The three players are all attackers and will fill out the top of the field for the Leopards.
Seoul have made big changes over the transfer window, with a new management staff, and an entirely new team. Seoul may have to have a transition season to let all the players work and gel together. However, It would be surprising if they finished at the bottom once more. If they can work well and take the guidance of new manager Chung Jung-yong into their game, then Seoul could be looking at a mid-table finish. They may even push to take that last playoff position.
Having taken over the team towards the end of last season, Suwon FC manager Kim Do-kyun has set about bringing in some new faces to the side as they look to improve on last year’s disappointing finish of 8th. With the team’s top scorer from the last campaign Chisom Egbuchunam having moved on during the winter, Kim will certainly be hoping newly acquired striker Akos Szarka can hit the ground running. The Slovakian target man scored 19 goals playing for Gyirmot in Hungarian NB II league last season. The team will also look to the arrivals of ex-Ansan Greeners shadow striker Ishida Masatoshi, former Corinthians midfielder Malone and former Okzhetpes attacker Danilo Alves to further liven up their attack, especially with the likes of Henri Anier, Baek Sung-dong and Lee Seung-hyeon having now all left the club.
However, the player to keep an eye on could well prove to be defender Cho Yu-min. It will be the youngster’s third professional season in the K League and his second as vice-captain of this side in what looks set to be a promising career for the 2018 Asian Game gold medalist. With many new faces and a new manager, Suwon FC will be hoping things can gel quickly and potentially make a push for promotion.