Thursday Kickaround / K-League attendance numbers improving? [Update 1.0]

No midweek matches to feature, but plenty to talk about for Thursday’s kickaround. In the wake of shockwaves from Park Chu-Young’s move to FC Seoul earlier, we catch up with other interesting developments in Korean football. We start with Seoul E-Land surprise preseason game with NASL’s Carolina Railhawks…

Last Sunday, with a few days notice, the Railhawks announced a preseason friendly with Martin Rennie’s Seoul E-Land, a club he’s charged with assembling from the ground up. The team traveled to the US east coast for this pre-season friendly and drew scoreless in regulation time; they went straight into a penalty shootout, losing 5:4. From the Railhawks post match recap of the game: “Seoul E-Land had an excellent chance to score when Kim Young Keun created a yard away from the defender and fired a dipping shot towards the far post that curled inches wide of the woodwork.”  Early in the 2nd half, Ryan Johnson went one on one with Carolina’s keeper -who managed to keep the ex-Portland Timber’s front man from scoring. Rennie’s ties with the Railhawks goes back to 2009 when he quickly turned around the team and led them to 1st place place in the USL, then remarkably to 1st when they transitioned to NASL the following year. A minor league coach of the year candidate, the Vancouver Whitecaps hired him in 2011, where he continued his trend of quick turnarounds, taking them to their first playoff in their franchise history.  Lee Young-Pyo won the Whitecaps 2012 Player of the Year before retiring in December 2013.

Martin Rennie was interviewed by the Daily Record, telling them he’s excited about the Seoul E-Land challenge of using the resources given him to start a club from the ground up – and in doing so he has an unprecedented advantage – to grow organically a base of support and correspondingly run a club with best practices right from the start. He also weighs in on the 2002 World Cup stadiums in Korea:

 

“One mistake they make at the moment is playing games in big stadiums. You can have 10,000 there but they could be lost in a 50,000-seat stadium. We’re in the Olympic Stadium in Seoul but we’re pretty much building a ground within a ground to make it more intimate

…Some others struggle for crowds and it could maybe be marketed better. But it is popular, people follow the game and you can get 45-50,000 at big games.”

Park Chu-Young update: it was widely believed that PCY’s contract with Al Shabab was mutually ended, however Al Shabab announced that his 8 month contract is still legit.  Transfer will still happen but to sort all that paperwork, he might not be eligible until early April to officially play with FC Seoul.  Both Seoul FC’s coach Choi Young-Soo and PCY addressed the media in a welcoming ceremony for him at Seoul World Cup Stadium. He will wear #91 (9+1, get it?).  Here’s PCY and his statement to the media on Tuesday (from Korean JoongAng Daily).

My final thoughts on the move and PCY’s career in Europe: I think about the January transfer window in 2012 during Park’s first season in London, when Arsenal could have / should have loaned him out. It was an absolute disservice to Park – and if he did have a decline in form overall, this might be the pinpoint fateful moment where things could have changed. His confidence and form had never been the same since scoring double digits at AS Monaco in 2010-2011.  I think about Kim Bo-Kyung – a tremendously creative player who was as of last January rotting away in Cardiff, some tumultuous times for him and the club before and after being relegated from the EPL.  Cardiff’s current manager Slade has been roundly criticized in Cardiff, particularly after Wigan has been able to properly utilize ‘Kimbo’ since his free transfer in January. Kim’s scored 2 vital goals recently, bringing Wigan closer to escape the Eng Championship relegation zone, and additionally has won the last several Man of the Matches for the Lactics.  Park and Kim are two very different kinds of players, however I still maintain that had Park gotten out of Arsenal sooner and utilized properly by a different manager, his European career would have looked drastically different.  [Sure, there was Celta Vigo’s loan spell as an opportunity several months later, but he had been out of action for an entire season. With different chemistry, language, managerial tactics & culture as additional challenges not to mention his multiple injuries -why it didn’t work there could be further debated but Bottom Line, it didn’t work out & the rest is history].  Regardless -for the K-League, there is fortune to be found with Park’s misfortune, and should attendances light up as a result of this blockbuster move, chalk this up in the positive category for Korean domestic football.

Quick post on the KNT friendly matches later this month against Uzbekistan and New Zealand, Cha Du-Ri will be officially honored with his retirement from international duty on March 31 vs New Zealand:

Love those tattoos. Korea national team roster will be announced March 17th. Cha is one of 4 players from the 2002 World Cup Korean team still professionally active.

Back to the K-League, the Tavern Owner is very pleased to see higher attendance rates for round 1 of the season.

 

Close to 14K average attendance, that’s the best opening day attendance since 2011.  Let’s see if this can be sustained or better yet -improve…

Why these preliminary attendance #’s are higher? We can only speculate. They are encouraging considering that Korea had a humiliating early exit from the World Cup only 8 months ago -and analysts were betting on lower attendance numbers. However, since the World Cup, Team Korea has had 2 very good events that has their football program in positive territories:

  •  Winning the Asian Games Gold medal in October – a feel good story, a last minute goal with an electrifying atmosphere against North Korea and most importantly, military exemption won for players like Park Joo-Ho and Kim Jin-Su. Park Jo-Ho was originally scheduled to leave the Bundesliga in Germany to return to Korea and serve his 2 year military service.
  • A five game winning streak (and 5 clean sheets) leading up to the Asian Cup finals. So close, but despite going runner ups, this was considered a good result for Uli Stielike and despite some mixed performances, overall they did well in the tournament – more importantly won the goodwill of the Korean public.

If there’s anything else, it’s news about Lee Seung-Woo and other promising youth talent training in Europe that has Korea generally excited.  It’s pernicious to over-hype Lee, but it’s widely believed that he, along with fellow La Masia students Jang Gyeol-hee and Paik Seung-Ho, they could be among the first Koreans to play for Barcelona’s first team. At least that’s what their trajectory suggests..

 

 

In contrast, here’s another league where ‘football’ has traditionally struggled to gain a foothold with the masses: week 1 of the MLS season in the United States: Average: 25,838 attendance.

 

 

Not too shabby.

On the flipside and the lowest attended opener, I went with my 6 year old to see our local team, DC United. They hosted Montreal.  A decent match, not EPL quality of course but a vast improvement in quality from the last time I took in an MLS match 3 years ago (in Colorado).  A Costa Rican, Jario Arrieta got behind Montreal’s backline and with their keeper charging, flicked the ball and it rolled in for the only goal that counted. Fairly good atmosphere provided by the flag waving, foot stomping throngs on the north end of RFK; however the 50 year old stadium is rusting, falling apart and way too big and awkward to hold a proper game anymore. Thus, despite a huge appetite for soccer on the DC metropolitan TV market (#1 in the nation during the World Cup and during the European club season consistently), it only drew 11K. Like in Korea and in a number of K-League matches in recent memory, a less than a quarter filled stadium lends to a less-then-ideal atmosphere, and undercuts whatever financial progress they may otherwise be able to accomplish – considering most MLS clubs have their own soccer-specific stadiums, smaller but sleeker and tailor made for their locality. Consider QPR’s Loftus Road capacity is only 18K. It’s considered one of the more intimidating stadiums for visitors due to the proximity of supporters to the pitch. Sometimes, Less is More.

[one more thing to point out, it’s not just Korea and some parts of the US that struggle to fill stadiums, even in parts of Europe, some top flight teams find themselves with nearly empty stadiums. That’s the case now in PCY’s old club, AS Monaco. They actually aren’t in France proper, being a micro-nation, but compete in Ligue 1. To compete in the Champions League and against other Ligue 1 clubs like PSG, behold: the Stade Louis II. Built in 1985, it holds 19K and rarely draws but a few thousand locals. Well to be fair, for a nation of 37,000, it might be difficult to host half of the country for each match. For what it’s worth, the Guardian Weekly football podcast talked about the attendance there and how eerily quiet it is, and what it does for the home side -namely the lack of a true home field advantage with a non-existent raucous crowd to intimidate visiting teams].

Anyway, DC United will finally have it’s own stadium at Buzzard Point in 2017, a much more reasonable 20K stadium.  Something more K-League clubs, should they manage to find the willpower, finances, and local political momentum -need to do to improve the domestic football scene.  Here’s an actual quote from my son Miles on looking at RFK stadium inside:

“Why are all those seats empty?”

 

 

Running out of time, so quickly here’s a few more aggregate links to consider:

Ulsan’s new coach, Yoon Jung-Hwan made his K-League managerial debut and won very convincingly 2-0 against Seoul FC. You may not be familiar with Yoon, but he was the very successful coach of Sagan Tosu in the J-League, bringing them not only up from J-League 2, but as of last August, to the very top of the J-League table. It was at that point he was shockingly sacked by Tosu Sagan management. Who sacks a coach when they are at the top?  Their side of the story maintains he had poor relations with his players. Yoon (as far as I can look up on the interwebs) did not issue a comment. Was this a case where a J-League club didn’t want a Korean to be a successful one leading their club?  There’s no evidence of that on the surface, but their decision has been quite a head scratcher. Since sacking Yoon, Sagan Tosu fell from the top and ended the season in 5th, missing their chance at an Asian Champions League spot. Sagan Tosu’s loss is now Ulsan’s gain.

 

Update: this just in, U22 selections for the AFC U23 championship in 2016:

Last note: Moon Hong is hoping with his STV Academy to take Korean youth training to a whole new level in teaching good tactical skills. He had a spell with some lower tiered English clubs a few years ago but couldn’t continue due to visa problems. The 25 year old recently completed a UEFA B Coaching license and seems to have a good vision. Here’s a Korean Times article on him.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Not to rain on the attendance parade too much, but this year’s number was similar to last season’s (last season was a tad over 13K). It then proceeded to slide over the next month before settling around 7K.

    • Aighhh!! Now you’ve done it, you’ve killed the dream! Just kidding. Yeah it’ll likely decline…but with my Powers of positive thinking, I’m just trying to will the attendance #s to steady or even exceed 14k.

      That said, this decent opening # happened pre-PCY to Seoul announcement. I’d have to think we will see the PCY effect on season attendance #s.

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