|Fans watch the K League 1 game between Jeonbuk Hyundai and Pohang Steelers at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium in North Jeolla Province, Aug. 1. / Yonhap|
By John Duerden
The 2021 K-League season kicks off Saturday. Usually there are bumper attendances as people up and down the peninsula get their first soccer fix of the year. The stadiums won't be full this year for obvious reasons but that does not mean that there is nothing to look forward to.
Last week we talked a little about the big boys ― Jeonbuk Motors and Ulsan Horangii. The rivals have finished in the top two spots for the last two years and many think they will make it three in a row. The question for these is whether Ulsan can stop throwing the title away and actually hang on to the top spot until the last ball is kicked.
There are plenty of other questions however. Like, how will the promoted teams do? Jeju United and Suwon FC both came up from K2 in 2020 and both played some entertaining soccer. Neither are strangers to the top tier with Jeju especially a feature over the years before relegation in 2019.
It was no surprise the islanders came straight back up, in first place. Coach Nam Ki-il has lots of experience for a 46 year-old. United was so impressive last season and with not many changes being made, that momentum should mean that the team is not looking over its shoulder too much.
Suwon should be a breath of fresh air to the top tier. The K-League is often short of free-scoring teams and it is to be hoped that the team continues with the same style. That remains to be seen as there have been a lot of changes made to the roster.
Unlike Jeju, Suwon ― the little brother to the mighty Bluewings based in the same city just south of Seoul ― has never established itself in the top tier. The team enjoyed, if that is the right word, just one season in 2016 before a swift return to the lower league. It will not be a surprise if something similar happens in 2021.
For Suwon to stay in the K-League then it will have to finish above teams such as Seongnam and Incheon United. Incheon somehow survived on the final day of last season. United was bottom of the standings for pretty much all of the year but suddenly started to pick up results. After not winning any of its 15 games in the league, Incheon won seven of the last 12 and managed to stay up.
Fans will not want to go through the same again and the same could be said of Seongnam FC. The club has been busy in the transfer market bringing in experienced strikers such as Romanian Sergio Bus, who has played for Sheffield Wednesday in England and Bulgaria's CSKA Sofia. Then there is the giant Serbian forward Fejsal Mulic who has experience in Germany and, at over two meters, could cause some serious problems if he gets the right supply.
The K-League is unpredictable enough that other clubs could be in trouble but that is what we will find out in the coming months.