15 for 2015 – Breakout talents all year long…

Nicole and I worked together on this post to recap the year’s surprising stars and budding talents who have made their mark on the K League or in a KNT shirt. Read on…

Lee Jaesung

Lee Jaesung

2015 was a big year for Lee Jaesung. After winning the gold medal in the 2014 Asian Games, Lee only soared to greater heights this season, impressing all year round for champions Jeonbuk Hyundai, and becoming a staple in their starting lineup right from the get-go. His feats didn’t go unnoticed, as Uli Stielike gave him his first Korean national team cap against Uzbekistan on March 27th. His performance in that game plus his goal against New Zealand four days later in Cha Duri’s retirement match put his name in lights. Fast forward a few months and he is now a key element for Stielike’s side, with 13 appearances and 4 goals. And there is a very good reason why : his otherworldly pinpoint passing ability is the main feature of his game. Combine him with smart, sharp teammates to receive his passes and Lee Jaesung can even play breathtaking one-twos. He distributes the ball quickly and stimulate Korean and Jeonbuk attacks. He also has his versatility (he can play on the wing, in the center attacking mid role or even a bit deeper) and his knack for scoring headers to his credit. Lee Jaesung has made his stamp on the Korean national team and looks destined to be a mainstay for the months and years to come. -TL

Kim Jin-Hyeon

We chose to add Kim Jin-Hyeon to our breakout talents of 2015 as he was a relatively unknown player to Korean fans but exceeded our expectations at the 2015 Asian Cup. He was Uli Stielike’s first choice goal keeper until his recent injury. He currently plays in J-League’s second division Cerezo Osaka although there are many K-League clubs currently interested in his services. Maybe he will make a January move.  Kim Jin-Hyeon was one of the main reasons Korea made the finals of the Asian Cup, he kept a clean sheet throughout the tournament and only conceded two goals which were in the final match. He is a great player, with great athletic ability. Hopefully he continues to perform for the KNT. -NC

Lee Jongho

This guy is a personal favorite of mine, and he’s probably only in this list because of it. Lee Jongho, nicknamed the Gwangyang Rooney, was key to Jeonnam’s early success in the K League this season. Although he has a tendency to be maddeningly wasteful with his chances, Lee’s speed has never betrayed him, and despite looking smaller out there on the pitch, he compensates with his dynamism. When called up to the EAFF Cup, Lee didn’t disappoint, with a particularly delicious goal over China, scooping the ball past Wang Dalei from a Kim Seungdae pass and sliding it into the back of the net. Although his club form waned near the end of the season, his feats have earned himself a transfer to the Bayern Munich of South Korea – the dominant Jeonbuk Hyundai. If he continues to impress in Jeonju under the stewardship of Choi Kanghee, he might be making some more trips to Paju for Korean national team responsibilities. -TL

 

Suk Hyun-Jun

Suk Hyunjun

Suk Hyun-Jun is definitely having a great season, he is one of the most consistent Korean Players Abroad. He currently has 10 goals this season for Vitoria Setubal. With Suk Hyun-Jun consistently performing well he got a national team call up by Uli Stielike. He re-joined the Korean national team after a five year hiatus. Upon his KNT return the tall, imposing centre forward scored two goals for South Korea. With him being the second top scorer in the Portuguese League, many clubs are interested in him. Rumoured clubs are Benfica and Sporting Lisbon, Suk is doing well at Vitoria but with the club needing money they have no choice to seel him. I expect Suk to make a move soon, maybe in the January transfer window. -NC

Hwang Uijo

Hwang Uijo

Although Hwang has been a touch underwhelming for the KNT, the budding forward has been exceptional for Seongnam, playing the most minutes than anybody on the squad and bagging 15 goals, guiding the Magpies to a 5th place finish. And just to think how many more goals he should have from all his wasted chances! He can play either on the wing or up top, and has a few compilation goals to keep as souvenirs from this season, though the winner against then-Japanese treble winners Gamba Osaka in March was probably the pick of the lot. If Seongnam continue to create chances for Hwang, he should be able to better this year’s tally of goals with a bit more luck and a touch less wastefulness. -TL

Joo Min-Kyu

Joo Minkyu

Joo Min-Kyu is a top contender for 2015 breakout star of the year, he came out of nowhere and took everyone by surprise. He scored 23 goals and provided 7 assists for K-League Challenge’s Seoul Eland FC. He simply couldn’t stop scoring, with a great eye for goal and creating chemistry with his teammates. Up until last year he was playing as a defensive midfielder on an expiring contract with Goyang Hi-FC. There Seoul Eland FC coach Martin Rennie scooped him up and persuaded Joo Min-Kyu to change his position from a CDM to a striker. This was a great choice as he ended up being the second top scorer for K-league Challenge on his first season as a striker. With him making headlines in the K-League, he was even on the preliminary roster for the 2015 EAFF East Asian Cup. We expect to see more of him next year. Maybe even a well-deserved national team call up in the near future. -NC

Kwon Changhoon

Kwon Changhoon

Kwon Changhoon is only 21 years old, and he’s probably gone out and had one of the best seasons a Korean 21 year old could hope for. The Suwon Bluewings midfielder played a part in 35 of the 38 league games for Seo Jungwon’s side as well as playing in 7 AFC CL games. The youthful centre midfielder s at his best when given license to charge forward, boasting lung bursting vertical runs that are without parallel in the K League. Just when you think he’s going to slow down and backpass, he turns on the jets and speeds by helpless defensive midfielder after helpless defensive midfielder. And if Yeom Kihun has the best left foot of the K League, Kwon is a close second. There’s is indeed something delightful about his impeccable ball control and his ability to execute picture perfect passes with the top of his boot, caressing these lobbed passes for his teammates. Not to mention his refreshing fearlessness to have a shot once in a while, a characteristic that seems to go amiss when Korean players turn of age. Kwon’s attributes were noticed by Stielike, as he was paired with Ki Sungyueng and Jung Wooyoung (who didn’t make this list simply because I don’t know enough about J.League to know if he has been putting in impressive shifts at his club) in an attacking midfield triad that is working wonders so far for the KNT. And there will be no Kwon-withdrawal this year – he’s back at it in a few days for the Korea U23 in the AFC U23 Championship. -TL

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