Chunma soar on back of long-time reservesComing into the season, many sports fans expected the Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma to have a tough time matching their performance from last year.
The team, after all, lost two key players in the midfield during the offseason. Kim Jung-woo moved onto the Gwangju Sangmu, while Lee Ho signed with Al Ain of the Saudi League.
But two unlikely players have emerged to help lead the club to four consecutive wins to open the season - leading some fans to wonder if Seongnam could indeed be as good at they were in 2009, when the team finished as the runner-up in the the K-League Championships.
The departed players’ replacements, Jeon Kwang-jin and Kim Cheol-ho, both have spent some significant time on the bench as backups in previous seasons. This year, however, they are taking the field with the starters.
“Kim and Jeon were reserve players until last year, but they are now players we cannot do without,” Seongnam manager Shin Tae-young said recently.
Seongnam began the season with a 2-0 win over Kawasaki Frontale in an AFC Champions League match.
In the K-League season opener, the club defeated Gangwon FC 3-0 and then went onto defeat Melbourne Victory of Australia by a score of 2-0 in the AFC Champions League match before manhandling Incheon FC 6-0 on March 14.
The six goals scored in the Incheon match were the most in a single game in team history.
What has been more surprising about Seongnam’s achievements so far, however, is that they have not allowed a goal in four games.
Before the game against Incheon, Shin called on his team to boost offensive production. They responded, and Jeon even chipped in with his the first goal of his seven-year career.
“We won the game on a strong team effort,” Shin said after the game.
Kim and Jeon know each other well, as both joined Seongnam in 2004.
Having spent the majority of their careers on the bench, the two players have been earning a lot of praise as starters.
“I always wondered if I’d be able to score a goal before I retired from the game,” Jeon said. “Things are different now. It feels good to hear our manager compliment me on my play and it will push me to work harder.”
Kim is equally encouraged and optimistic. “Watching and studying the play of Kim Do-heon, Kim Sang-sik and Kim Jung-woo among other players for the past six seasons has helped me elevate my game,” Kim said. “With the help of Kwang-jin, I believe I can play well this season.”
The team has its biggest challenge to date on Friday when it prepares to face Jeonbuk Motors.
“It’s a matchup of last season’s winner and runner-up,” Shin said.
“While Jeonbuk has improve its team, we have several areas we still need to address.”
Shin will no doubt once again depend on Kim and Chun in the midfield to help Seongnam keep up its winning ways.
By Lee Jung-chan [email@example.com]