Up for the K-League challenge?
The K-League second tier is at its halfway stage this month and the capital’s new-boys Seoul E-Land will consider themselves well-positioned for a spot in the top flight next season. Fan expectation and pundit predictions had varied wildly in pre-season talk, with some expecting the club to stroll to victory whilst others were predicting a struggle. The club themselves seemed philosophical about their chances, with ex-Vancouver Whitecaps boss Martin Rennie apparently given a tangible two-season brief to achieve promotion. With the club starting their season a week later than the rest due to the odd number of teams in the division, anticipation had built to the point that the first game – a draw at home to FC Anyang in front of a fledgling crowd – felt like an anti-climax. The next few games followed a similar vein as the Seoul struggled to find their rhythm, with fans having to wait until their sixth league match before seeing a win. That first victory (a 5-1 hammering of Suwon City) seemed to help calm the team’s nerves and was the catalyst for an incredible run as E-Land shot up the ladder behind eight wins in nine matches. At that time it looked as if the new club would achieve promotion at the first attempt, but a series of difficult fixtures in recent weeks has led to a run of three defeats in five games, hinting that promotion to the top flight may not be the foregone conclusion that some Jamsil devotees had hoped.
Martin Rennie has done his best to create a fluid attacking side, with its thirty-eight goals scored in nineteen matches the second highest in the league. During their winning run the Jamsil-based side were playing some very attractive football with the star of the season undoubtedly being striker Joo Min-Kyu. Rennie deserves a lot of credit for spotting his potential last season when Joo was a bit-part player at Goyang Hi. Since breaking into the first team, Joo has been on fire, scoring sixteen goals in his first nineteen games. Goals such as the volley against Gyeongnam (which has been likened to James Rodriguez’s Puskas Award winning volley for Colombia at the last World Cup) have led to national team manager Uli Stielike watching him play, hinting that a call-up to the national side could be in the offing for the prolific striker.
Joo Min-Kyu plays at the tip of an attacking trio who have all contributed to the goal glut. At the start of the season, fans may have been concerned whether Brazilian Tarabai Santos could make the step up from the Maltese league, but he has shown great form, hitting seven goals so far. On the other side of Joo Min-Kyu is Japanese striker Robert Cullen. Known as “Bobby” to Koreans, Cullen has picked up quite a following among the Japanese fans in Korea. Former Korean international midfielder Kim Jae-Sung has also had a very impressive start to the season and is often the driving force behind many of the team’s attacking moves.
With Seoul E-Land currently positioned in a play-off spot to determine which side will join the league winners in the top flight, there is still everything to play for this season. However, they will need to improve against the better teams in the league if they are to be successful, given that three of its five defeats have been to teams above them. The other two defeats were to Gangwon, which is quickly becoming Seoul’s bogie team. Hopes of avenging their 4-2 home defeat earlier in the season were dashed when they conceded two early goals in the trip to Gangwon at the start of July, with Rennie’s charges eventually losing 3-1. The Seoul outfit will get another chance for revenge against Gangwon in mid-August. The recent drop in form may be due to fatigue, and indeed a number of regular starters were rested for the second Gangwon match, so hopefully the short break at the end of July can revitalise the team for a stronger run in the second half of the season.
Seoul Eland play at Jamsil’s Olympic Stadium and host three L-League Challenge matches in August: August 3 vs. FC Anyang; August 22 vs. Gangwon and August 29 vs. Ansan Police. Check the website or Facebook for kick-off times.
Seoul Eland Website: http://www.seoulelandfc.com/
Seoul Eland Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SeoulEland