It has a new structure, a new logo and a new name, but South Korea’s first-division soccer league will kick off the 2013 season this weekend with familiar faces as the title favorites.
The K League Classic, formerly called the K-League, will celebrate the 30th anniversary of professional football in the country this year. FC Seoul, the defending champion, will host the reigning FA Cup winner Pohang Steelers in one of three opening matches on Saturday.
Four more matches will follow on Sunday.
|Suwon Samsung Bluewings’ Jong Tae-se (Yonhap News)|
For the first time in the history of pro football here, there will be two divisions with promotion-relegation in effect.
The top 14 teams from 2012 will make up the first-division K League Classic. The bottom two teams will join six others in the second division called the K League.
In the first division, the teams will be split into two tiers based on their records after the first 26 games. And then the teams will each play 12 more games within their group to determine the final standings.
There will be no playoffs after the regular season.
The two worst teams from the K League Classic will be relegated to the K League for 2014. The third-to-last K League Classic club will enter a relegation playoff against the first-place team from the K League.
The winner of this game will play in the first division the following season.
In the K League Classic, the two clubs that split the past four championships are expected to once again contend for league supremacy this year.
FC Seoul won it all in 2010 and 2012, and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors did the same in 2009 and 2011. They appear to be the two front-runners after productive offseasons.
FC Seoul returns most of its key players from last year, including its dynamic offensive tandem of Dejan Damjanovic and Mauricio Molina.
In 2012, Damjanovic established a new K League Classic record with 31 goals, while Molina set a single-season record with 19 assists.
The defending champion has acquired promising 20-year-old midfielder Yun Il-lok from Gyeongnam FC and selected a former junior national team standout Park Hee-seong in the first round of the rookie draft.
Choi Yong-soo, FC Seoul’s head coach, said just as his squad has changed only slightly from last year, his philosophy will be essentially the same.
“We asked (midfielder) Ha Dae-sung to be our captain for the second straight season because we wanted to keep things the same as last year,” he said. “As we did last year, we will go out there and keep attacking and attacking.”
Jeonbuk was even busier in the winter, acquiring midfielder Lee Seung-gi from Gwangju FC and Belgian forward Kevin Oris from Daejeon Citizen.
Jeonbuk also added important pieces to defense, with national team member Jung In-hwan and offensive-minded wingback Lee Kyu-ro, both from Incheon United, joining the squad.
Among other clubs, Suwon Samsung Bluewings, which finished fourth last year, could provide the biggest challenge to FC Seoul and Suwon.
They made perhaps the most sensational acquisition during the offseason, plucking North Korean star Jong Tae-se from a second-division German club.
The striker, known for speed and nose for the goal, should add a new dimension to a club that vastly underachieved in 2012.
Seo Jung-won, the first-year head coach of Suwon, said he wants his team to play aggressive football.
“Our offense will be based on speed and movement,” Seo said. “At the same time, I want the players to enjoy themselves on the pitch.” (Yonhap News)