2023 Preview: Are Ansan Greeners Just Making up the Numbers?

As they enter their seventh K League 2 campaign, the Green Wolves have shown little sign of making a dent on the play-off places. With so many key players departing in the off-season, are the Greeners preparing for another season of just making up the fixture list, or can Im Jeong-heon craft this team into winners?

Out with the Old (First Team)

Squad rotation is the norm in the second tier of Korean football, and K League 2 fans will be used to a plethora of players switching sides, leaving for other pastures or coming in from the youth ranks or lower tiers. However, at least a few key players are expected to remain to give some form of familiar anchor to a side, but for the Greeners, 2023 marks one of the worst seasons for squad retention yet. After losing both captains in the opening months of 2022, the club have gone one better by seeing all of their key players leaving during the winter.

A typical first eleven from 2022 would likely feature some or all of: Robson Duarte; Lee Sang-min ; Choi Geon-joo; Asnawi Mangkualam; Shin Il-soo; Go Iwase; Song Jin-kyu; and Kim Min-ho . That is eight players in or around the first eleven that have departed leaving the Greeners with little to pin their hopes on for the new season. Even emerging players like Kim Bo-seop  have also been let go. In this bonfire of the first team, there are a few recognisable faces in the embers. Kim Kyeong-jun remains, and will hopefully kick on after netting six times last season. Jun-hee Lee also remains and was on of the sides more creative outlets in 2022 and Kim Yeong-nam  will be expected to pick up much of the midfield gap left by the departure of Lee Sang-min. Lee Seung-bin  also remains, and may be expected to captain the side this season having been a steady presence between the sticks for the past few seasons.

In with the New (First Team)

However, sides have emerged in this league to challenge after such off-season upheaval. This seems a good time to mention the obligatory vintage Greeners season of 2019... but Ansan have had some notable arrivals. At the time of writing, eight players have been plucked from K1 sides, the majority of which are 23 or below, and will see this as their chance to show why their previous clubs were too hasty to jettison them. An older acquisition is Kim Dae-kyung  who has made 49 appearances in the K League 1 for Incheon United and Suwon Bluewings, however that this has been across almost a decade lessens this impact. Winger Kim Beom-su  made over a dozen appearances for Jeju United last season and will be expected to get more game time for the Green Wolves. Eyes will also be on former Jeonbuk and Pohang man Lee Keun-ho , whose injury set-backs have prevented him from achieving more first team minutes in the top flight. Thai league veteran Jun-soo Lee also joins, but at 34 his impact may also be limited. 

Kim Chae-un and Kim Jae-seong at the pre-season training camp at Seogwipo
Kim Chae-un  makes for the most exciting acquisition, having played the majority of Asan's games in the K2 last season, netting twice from his left-back position. Jae-hoon Hong returns to the club, after being their at the beginning (2017), he spent the previous few seasons in the lower leagues before returning to the club for the coming season. Filling up the now vacant international spots are Brazilians Gabriel Honorio from Esporte Clube Vitoria, and Wandrew Laurindo Silva Mendonca from Real Estili in Nicaragua. Clearly there are a lot of unknown quantities coming into the new season, and manager Im Jeong Heon has a huge task ahead of him to meld these players into a competitive unit. On the plus side, there is a mix of experience across different tiers of the Korean football pyramid, along with a potential convergence of a lot of players needing to prove themselves. Having come in mid-season in 2022, Im also has the chance to look at this group as his own side, and with a lot of positive images coming from the pre-season training camp, there might just be a glimmer of light for Ansan this season.

Brazilian signings Wandrew and Gabriel

Time to Kick On

The lengthy lists of player names above attests to this seeming like another Ansan Greeners reboot, however with six full seasons as a professional club under their belts, there are some realistic targets for the club to aim for. It is unrealistic to anticipate a play-off finish, however with two new sides in the league, the Greeners really need to demonstrate that they are mainstays in the league. A mid-table finish with at least a mathematical shout at the playoffs going into the final third of the season is a reasonable goal. Last season's finish below new side Gimpo should not be repeated, and were it not for disastrous seasons from Busan and Jeonnam, Ansan may have finished as the basement club, a precarious position given the always lingering threat of introducing relegation to the second tier. Also, reaching a round in the cup whereby there is a chance of facing a K1 club is also a crucial aim. Almost four thousand fans attended the final home game of the season last October, and drawing a top tier side to the Wa Stadium can aid in bringing some excitement to the fan base. At the very least, getting dumped out by a fourth-tier side needs to be avoided!

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