|▲ Kwon Soon-hyung in action during Jeju United’s game against Gamba Osaka Photo courtesy Jeju United
With the K League now a third of the way through, Jeju United find themselves only five points adrift of league leaders Jeonbuk with a game in hand.
The season started with optimism, following a strong third place finish in the last campaign that saw Jeju qualify for the AFC Champions League.
Up to this point, the league season has been very much a success, although cup results have left many wondering about what could have been.
Nonetheless, the club has much to be proud of, despite being knocked out of both the Asian Champions League and the FA Cup in the round of 16.
Jeju had not qualified for the elite Asian football competition since 2011 when they were eliminated in the group stage.
Despite holding a two-goal advantage heading into the away leg against Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan, the island side fell to defeat in extra time to end what could have been a memorable run for a team making only its second appearance in the competition.
Back to back victories against Jiangsu and Gamba Osaka on the final two matchdays had already guaranteed United its best ever showing at the top tier of Asian football. In fact, this year was the first time they had ever qualified for the knockout stages.
If there is something positive to take from the setback, it is that the team can now focus fully on the league season at hand. They are in a great position in the league and if they can continue their good form they will have a chance to hopefully bring a championship to the island for the very first time.
Jeju United is one of the original members of the K League having been established in 1982 as the Yukong Elephants. Since then, the club has undergone some changes, having transferred to Jeju in 2005 after a near decade-long stint in Bucheon.
Jeju is currently top scorers in the league, notching an average of two goals per game at this point in the season. The offseason signings of French-born Frederic Mendy and Brazilian Magno Cruz have added another degree of potency to an already dangerous attack led by Marcelo Toscano, currently fifth in league scoring with six goals.
Following a solid start to this year’s campaign, which has included a stunning 4-0 away victory against Jeonbuk, the team will play its next match away from home, to fellow title challengers Ulsan Hyundai. In this game they will hope for a similar result to the last time the two teams played each other, as that game ended 3-0 to Jeju United at their home ground.
There is hope that Jeju’s crumbling exit from cup competition this season will not derail its league aspirations.
United showed very little venture in the return leg against Urawa, and it cost them dearly at the bitter end. This was followed by a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Suwon Bluewings in the FA Cup, leaving many to think that things have gone amiss lately at the club.
How the club fares through the summer months will ultimately determine whether there will be a run at a championship for the first time in more than two decades (when they were known as Yukong Elephants). Optimism remains high though, and as long as the goals keep pouring in, there is no reason to count them out of the picture come season’s end.