Over the next week, plenty will be said and written about the Mexican and US national teams in the lead up to friendlies against South Korea. Their opponent, however, will receive little coverage in this country, therefore, I thought it might be interesting to provide an overview of this squad as well as point out specific players to keep an eye on.
The South Korean national team is in the midst of a three match tour of the United States. They defeated Costa Rica on January 25th in Los Angeles by a score of 1-0. Next they will play against Mexico in San Antonio on January 29th before returning to California to face the United States in Carson.
The Koreans, known as the Taegeuk Warriors, bring a relatively inexperienced team to the US for this tour. The squad is comprised almost entirely of players from K-League Classic (top flight of Korean soccer) with only two players coming from outside of Korea, both playing in J-League. At the start of the tour, six members of the squad were uncapped while nine others had fewer than ten caps.
Much like the Mexican and American squads they will face, this team is comprised of a mix of players who are on the fringe of the national team and trying to play their way into World Cup contention as well as players getting some experience for the future. Of the roster currently in the US, only Jung Sung-Ryong, Kim Seung-Gyu (as a backup keeper), Lee Keun-Ho and Kim Jin-Su look to be sure things to get the call-up for Brazil. Another five to seven have a good chance and will be pushing hard on this tour to secure their slot.
Keeper: Jung Sung-Ryong (Suwon Samsung), Kim Seung-Gyu (Ulsan Hyundai), Lee Bum-Young (Busan IPark)
Defenders: Kim Ki-Hee (Jeonbuk Hyundai), Kang Min-Soo (Ulsan Hyundai), Kim Dae-Ho (Pohang Steelers), Lee Ji-Nam (Daegu FC), Park Jin-Po (Seongnam FC), Kim Jin-Su (Albirex Niigata), Lee Yong (Ulsan Hyundai), Kim Min-Woo (Sagan Tosu), Kim Ju-Young (FC Seoul)
Midfielders: Ha Dae-Sung (FC Seoul), Go Yo-Han (FC Seoul), Lee Ho (Sangju Sangmu), Kim Tae-Hwan (Seongnam FC), Song Jin-Hyung (Jeju United), Park Jong-Woo (Busan IPark), Lee Myeong-Joo (Pohang Steelers)
Forward: Lee Seung-Gi (Jeonbuk Hyundai), Lee Keun-Ho (Sangju Sangmu), Yeom Ki-Hoon (Suwon Samsung), Kim Shin-Wook (Ulsan Hyundai)
Typically, the Taegeuk Warriors are quick and athletic, able to outwork other teams and hit them on the counter. The midfield is generally where Korea has its most capable players, and the current Korean team is no exception. Korea has a number of options at forward, however Manager Hong Myong-Bo (former LA Galaxy player) is still struggling to find a consistent option up top. Historically, Korea is weakest in defense. Quality players coming up through the system who happen to play defense, are generally shifted up to midfield or forward before or after they turn pro. Consequently, only two of the approximately twenty-two Koreans currently playing top flight football in Europe are considered defenders.
An excellent example of the Korean tendency to take good defenders and move them elsewhere, and a player to watch this week, is Kim Shin-Wook. Kim, 25 years old, is a 6’5" forward currently playing for Ulsan Hyundai. Kim was a central defender in his youth football days, but was converted into a forward upon signing his first professional contract for Ulsan. He made his debut for Ulsan in 2009 and has been learning the position ever since. He is now coming into his own, having topped the K-League Classic scoring charts this past season (along with Dejan Damjanovic) with 19 goals. Kim scored the lone goal this weekend against Costa Rica (his 3rd senior goal) and also scored in his previous national team match against Russia. Dynamo Theory readers may recall that Kim is a player I mentioned last year as someone worth having a look at as a transfer target. Unlike other tall forwards, like Cam Weaver, Kim actually has decent speed. He has struggled a bit at the international level, however; especially with the ball at his feet.
If Mexico puts consistent pressure on the Korean back 4, they will generate scoring opportunities. Hong is likely to seek to counter Mexican pressure by setting out in a 4-2-3-1 as he did against Costa Rica. Korea has typically played a 4-4-2, however in recent matches Hong has experimented. Kim will likely start alone up top with Lee Keun-Ho or Lee Seung-Gi playing just underneath him. Hong will wish to rotate the side a bit from the one that started against Costa Rica, so we may see Kim Tae-Hwan get his first cap at the right side of the midfield with Song Jin-Hyung on the left side (alternatively Go Yo Han and Kim Min Soo will start on right and left). Hong may go with the same defensive midfield pairing he used against Costa Rica: Park Jong Woo and Lee Myeong Joo, both of whom have a chance at making the Brazil squad. However, in the event that Ha Dae-Sung is healthy then he will likely replace one of the two. Kim Jin-Su and Lee Yong should start at fullback. Kang Min-Soo will provide an experienced hand at one center back spot, while a limited set of experienced options means Kim Ki-Hee will likely start next to him.
Players to watch, apart from Kim Shin-Wook:
Kim Jin-Su – Exciting young fullback (21 years old), reminds many of Lee Young-Pyo at his peak. Should get a Brazil call-up, may actually start. Likely to hold down the left side of the defense for years to come.
Go Yo-Han – 24-year old who was part of the FC Seoul squad that reached the Asian Champions League Final last year. Quick, good dribbler, lots of potential.
Lee Myeong-Joo – 23-year old, part of the defending K-League Classic Champion Pohang Steelers. K-League rookie of the year in 2012 and K-League Classic Best XI in 2013. Solid midfielder who is capable of scoring goals.
Park Jong-Woo – 24-year old, solid defensive midfielder. Excellent pace, tireless runner who frequently shuts down opposing attacks. Has the ability to score from long range as well.