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Plenty of positives as Jeju United looks towards new season
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승인 2013.02.05  10:10:40
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Jeju United and their fans take some some positives into the new 2013 season. Photo courtesy Jeju United
Well, there’s always next year.

After 16 wins, 15 draws, and 13 losses in 44 K-League regular season and championship round games, Jeju United concluded their 2012 campaign in sixth place overall. They will certainly look to improve on that finish come 2013, as they are placed amongst 13 other teams in the newly formed “K-League Classic” division – the top tier of four South Korean soccer leagues.

Though their sixth place finish in 2012 was better than their ninth place seeding and appearance in the league’s relegation round the previous season, it still had to be considered relatively disappointing. It has been 23 years since Jeju United’s first and only K-League championship in 1989, and two since their runner-up finish in 2010 – their fourth time as a bridesmaid rather than a bride. Although they made progress and appear to be heading in the right direction, anything less than K-League gold for the club cannot possibly be thought of as successful after those prior brushes with glory.

The team certainly showed signs of strong positivity and potential at times through the season though. Their 71 goals for were good enough for fourth overall in the league, and their 56 goals against put them in seventh out of the K-League’s 16 teams. Their 15 goal difference was fourth best, and they were one of only seven teams to finish with more goals scored than against.

Jair was an absolute workhorse for Jeju United last season – in the 3557 minutes of the 44 appearances the 24 year old Brazilian attacker made (over 300 more than any other Jeju player) Jair netted 18 goals (also a team high). That’s 16 more than his previous career season high of two, which he scored in 2011 with the Orange in only a quarter of the games. As impressive as that is, 14 of those goals were scored in the regular season, while only four were tallied in the championship round. Jair finished third in league-wide regular season scoring, fourth in round two, and tied for third in total goals.

Fan favorite and fellow imported Brazilian Santos Jr. pulled his weight as well, scoring 14 times in 35 games to match his previous output record, set in 2011. He also logged 2934 minutes played – 423 more than the season before. Like Jair, his championship round offensive took a dive too, only scoring one goal in the second round. He finished fifth in regular season scoring.

Another player that had a breakout year was Dong-Hyeon Seo. The 27 year old attacker scored 12 goals in his fifth K-League season. That’s four more than his previous best of eight from 2008 when he played for the Suwon Bluewings, and ten more than when he suited up for Gangwon in 2011. His 2726 minutes played were also his best by 992 minutes, and his 43 games were his best by 18.

In addition, Jin-Hyung Song, Il-Hwan Bae, Jae-Won Heo, and Ban-Suk Oh, all set career highs in goals scored.

However, all of those small triumphs only added up to 63 total points for the team – 33 off of K-League winner Seoul FC, and 14 away from the Pohang Steelers, who grabbed the final AFC Champions League qualifying spot.

The 10 game winless streak the team suffered through from July 25th until September 3rd certainly did not help their chances at a higher placement. The last two losses of that stretch kicked off their 14 game championship round appearance – certainly not the way a team with title aspirations hopes to begin a significantly shorter round of matches. Two games into the second round, Jeju United was still trying to shed the loss monkey from their back, killing any chance they had at building playoff momentum, and all but sealing their fate from the onset.

To make matters worse, they failed to score a single goal in five of those 14 playoff games, and a total of 11 times throughout the year. Not exactly a recipe for success.

Another one of their imports, 31-year-old Robert de Pinho de Souza of Brazil, must have been considered a disappointment. He only lasted six months with the squad, joining in January, and departing in July. He scored just three goals in the 13 matches he appeared on Jeju’s lineup. After his departure from Jeju and return to action in Brazil, he scored five goals in 16 games with Ceará SC.

Robert’s replacement, fellow Brazilian Renan, did not fare all that much better. In an equal 13 appearances, Renan only scored one goal for Jeju, and it came on a direct penalty kick. In that same game, he also scored an own goal.

30 year old Australian defender Adrian Madaschi had an alarming ten yellow cards on the year – four of them coming in round two. Midfielder Jun-Yub Kim and goaltender Dong-Jin Han received the team’s only red cards, with one apiece.

Jeju certainly seemed more comfortable playing on their home turf at Seogwipo World Cup Stadium last season, in front of the average of 6,007 fans that attended games. Out of their 16 total wins, 13 were recorded at home, and only three were on the road. They also had fewer losses at home – of their 13, six were at home and 7 came while away. Out of the 71 total goals they scored, 47 were tallied at home, and only 24 came on the road; giving them a 2.14 goals per game average at home, and only a 1.09 average as visitors. In the eleven games they were shutout, only four occurred in front of their home fans, while seven took place elsewhere. 42 of their 63 points were earned at home, and only 21 of them were earned while away.

Despite the setbacks, there is still plenty of positivity and potential to be mined from Jeju United’s season as they go forward. However, fans can only wait until March to see what the squad will look like come kickoff to the 2013 season. Keeping franchise players such as Jair (contracted until December 31, 2013) and Santos Jr. will be key to their future success, as well as the successful integration of newcomers Park Gi-Dong, Pedro Júnior, Waldison, and others. They will also need to continue building on all the aspects they made strides in during 2012, rather than see them go by the wayside. Head coach Kyung-Hoon Park spurred the majority of his players on to their best seasons in the league yet last season – if he has the right personnel to work with in 2013 and can refine them even further, Jeju fans just might find themselves cheering on a legitimate championship contender come springtime. Only time will tell.

Dave Cunning is a freelance writer from Kelowna, BC, Canada. Read his blog and follow him on Twitter: @davecunning

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