As the end of the season beckons across Asia, it is time for us at Outside of the Boot to recognize the accomplishments of tomorrow’s stars under our Talent Radar banner, with the U-22 Team of the Season feature. This particular feature looks at the best of the K-League.
Hyeon-Moon Kang // Pohang Steelers // 22 // Goalkeeper: It’s a hard life for any young keeper in any sort of competitive domestic competition. Given the nature of the position, your chances are few and far between. Not to mention how the average keeper lasts well into his 30s as opposed to at other positions, where when you hit 30, you’re ready to be replaced. Still, Hyeon-Moon Kang made the most of his chances at the ripe young age of 22, emerging as the go-to keeper for Pohang Steelers in their mid-table performance. Kang proved himself a more than capable shot-stopper and the Steelers should be quite confident going forward, knowing that they won’t have to address the keeper position again anytime soon.
Kim Woo-Suk // Daegu FC // 21 // Defender: Daegu FC have a nice collection of young defenders that they can get excited about, and Kim Woosuk is certainly among the most exciting. While he only managed to work his way into 12 appearances, he showed in that time that he is a solid and dependable young up-and-comer. Of course, the highlight of his season would have to come when Woosuk netted his first goal in just the 6th minute against Jeonbuk, perhaps giving Daegu one more reason to get excited about their young defender.
Hwang Hyun-Soo // FC Seoul // 22 // Defender: Hwang Hyunsoo isn’t just a young defender with a lot of potential. He is a reliable, regular producer for FC Seoul’s stingy defensive outfit and, at the age of 22, that gives the club from the capital plenty to celebrate. Hyunsoo made appearances in a gross majority of Seoul’s matches, establishing himself as a presence in that back line, capable of marshalling opposing attackers and even doing some attacking of his own, as he sent home three goals on the year. Hyunsoo had spent the previous three years patiently awaiting his opportunity and when it finally came this year, he was there to grasp it with both hands.
Min-Jae Kim // Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC // 20 // Defender: It’s looking like Jeonbuk got away with borderline highway robbery when they nabbed this young defender from third tier Gyeongju Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power FC. Min-Jae Kim was as solid as any defender in the league and he did it all with the 2017 K-League Champions. Along with poking home two goals, the looming 1.90m defender notched himself over 2500 minutes with Jeonbuk and is definitely one of the more exciting names to watch in all of Korea.
Conor Chapman // Incheon United // 22 // Defender: Incheon may not have had the best year but it’s hard to completely fault the defense. After all, they didn’t give up any more goals than the five teams above them in the table. It was their offense that provided the problems while the defense held its own thanks in part to the only non-Korean on this list, Conor Chapman. The Australian defender showcased an impressive (and growing) pedigree in his first year in the K-League, making regular appearances and netting twice for a team that struggled for goals all year.
Han Chan-Hee // Jeonnam Dragons // 20 // Midfield: A true central midfielder, Han Chan-Hee is already a bonafide anchor in the middle of the pitch for Jeonnam and he is only 20 years old. He is such an intelligent force capable of changing the tide of a match and he has done this with a solid share of goals, assists, and just quality performances. He is a regular for the Dragons, and that influence he is exerting as a 20 year old is only going to expand as the years go by.
Jang Yun-Ho // Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC // 21 // Midfield: One of the youngest champions of the 2017 K League Classic. While his team mate Min-Jae Kim may steal the honor of being the most influential youngster in this Talent Radar squad, Jang Yunho is not far behind. Capable of playing any midfield position, but primarily used in a deeper role, Jang Yunho chipped in a good share of minutes en route to proving that he too can get in on the goal scoring/creating fun, even from his defensive role. Success is temporary, but with players like Jang Yunho ready to pick up more and more influence, Jeonbuk can go forward with confidence.
Yoon Seung-Won // FC Seoul // 22 // Midfield: Yoon Seung-won might be wondering what else he has to do to get more chances with FC Seoul. The attack-first midfielder has shown that with appearances comes goals and assists, but he still has yet to truly and fully break into the first-team set up. Which is part of the magic of being just 22 years old. There is still time for him to do that and, if nothing else, performing so well with so little time will only wind him up more for when those big chances do come around.
Lee Gwang Hyeok // Pohang Steelers // 22 // Midfield: Here we have a young man that has the whole of Pohang at his feet. Lee Gwang Hyeok has been with the Steelers youth set-up since 2008 and, ever since making the jump to the senior team in 2014, he has proven what can happen when you have patience and await that opportunity. Because 2017 was the big year for this young man and he took it, starting nearly 30 matches and proving to be a reliable source of chances for the Steelers’ finishers to feed off.
Yoo Juan // Suwon Samsung Bluewings // 19 // Secondary Striker: Yoo Juan had fun this year. Suwon Samsung Bluewings have showed that this core of youth talent they have is ready to take over more and more and Juan is just another great example of that. Tucked in behind as a secondary striker, this young man maximized every chance he had, showing a good eye for scoring and an equally good eye for creating. Now if he could just get 22 year old striker Kim-Gun Hee to start clicking, the Bluewings would have a strike-force build on youth and one shared bright future.
Sang-ho Na // Gwangju // 21 // Striker: The K-League is overladen with older, foreign strikers, especially in the teams competing for the title. It makes it hard for young strikers to break through, and we have seen plenty fall by the wayside, unable to live up to expectations as of yet. Sang-ho Na was given a good chunk of opportunity with the now-relegated Gwangju and he showed that a bigger dosage of this young man may be something that can help Gwangju work their way back into the Korean top tier.
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