The Underdog Role; Post US Tour Observations

“…I asked a Korean about what he thought of yesterday’s game. He described Lee Keun-Ho’s shooting as American football.”

 

The US tour has come to an end. I was fortunate enough to attend two of the three games here in the US, and here are some personal thoughts after following the team closely for a few years, and finally being able to see them live in action.

                 

Supporting the Korea National Team has always been an interesting experience. As a passionate and adamant supporter, I feel there is always something to look forward to. Thus far, the KNT has advanced to the knockout stages of a World Cup only twice. Once in home soil, and the other time in South Africa. However, it’s important to note how much progress Korea has made in the past decade. It only took a few years for Son Heung-Min to become a rising star in the Bundesliga, and already, there is amazing talent at La Masia and the Valencia Youth Academy like we’ve never had before. The Korean U-23 team left a historical mark by winning the Bronze medal at the London Olympics (the commentators believed Japan had an advantage, they were wrong).

 

It’s frustrating to see our international image somewhat sullied after losing Mexico and the US – all things being equal they only had home field advantage over us. At yesterday’s game, I felt both teams didn’t play at a high level. Mexico still has technical problems to address. As the underdog, the expectations of the Korean team from pundits are low. Our potential isn’t considered in the footballing world. The team is still in a process of recovery, and progress has been slow. Looking back in 2011, the appointment of Choi Kang-Hee as head coach was a baffling one. It was a major setback for a team that is in its crucial stage of development. It seems that opinion regarding the appointment of CKH is split here at the Tavern. Personally, I feel both parties are at fault. While the KFA hired someone who isn’t qualified and constantly pushed him into accepting the job, a national team coach should never taunt the opposition, especially before a WC qualifier. Up against weaker opposition, I was hoping that he would instill some cohesiveness into his players. As you can tell, I’m still learning to forget the past.  If there’s any lesson to be learned from this, it’s that in order to become a serious rival in the international game, such setbacks are unacceptable.

 

As mentioned before, military service is another major concern. Of course, the KFA has not acted effectively on the situation. It’s a sad dilemma placed upon on young players. In the match for the Bronze medal in the Olympics, It was ironic (and beautiful) to see how Park Chu-Young purged the negativity surrounding him by single-handedly drawing first blood against Japan, right after he received much criticism from the public after trying to avoid his military service. Similar to how David Beckham scored a game-winning penalty against Argentina in 2002 after being blamed for England’s loss (to Argentina) in the previous World Cup.

 

There are many reasons to remain positive for the future however. Not only will HMB’s team learn from the experience in the upcoming World Cup, but we already have some major talent coming our way. On the car ride to Carson for yesterday’s match, a friend made a good point regarding how the KNT lacks a quality player with flair. Someone perhaps like Neymar, or Balotelli. Korea has always lacked a true #10, and other than Son Heung-Min, I believe a player such as Lee Seung-Woo or Lee Kang-In can definitely fulfill that role in several years. Of course, progress will have to be monitored.

Lee Seung-Woo with (future teammate?) Neymar
Lee Seung-Woo with (future teammate?) Neymar

At Saturday’s game, I was surprised to see that not enough of the Korean community had come to support their team. Koreatown isn’t too far from Carson. The atmosphere was disappointing for me. I was still trying to get into the stadium when the first goal was scored in the fifth minute by Wondolowski.

Right after the US opened the scoring.
Right after the US opened the scoring.
Notice the grassy field on the right. A cool way to watch a football match. US fans contributed to our chant. “Daehan-Minguk! U-S-A!”
Notice the grassy field on the right. A cool way to watch a football match. US fans contributed to our chant. “Daehan-Minguk! U-S-A!”

The best thing (or worst) about football is that you generally live with your team for the rest of your life.  I am proud to be supporting the Taeguk Warriors. And I would never change that.

The American Outlaws. The best moment for me during this match can be described in two words:  Mexican Wave.
The American Outlaws. The best moment for me during this match can be described in two words: Mexican Wave.

Verdict: Not too concerned about this tour. The next Friendlies, against Greece and Canada (?), are of more importance. Working at a shift right now at my school library, and I asked a Korean about what he thought of yesterday’s game. He described Lee Keun-Ho’s shooting as American football. That’s pretty understandable.

Jeremy Paek – Tavern Contributing Writer

 

Tavern Owner chiming in: Thanks to Jeremy for that piece!  I watched the match with a former West Ham academy player (who ended his career early due to an ACL injury). I sat in abject horror, but like Jeremy (and Jae said in an earlier post) said, the result was not anything to get too worked up over.  Still, one of the highlights of Jeremy’s observations was the brief but incisive observation from a fellow Korean who watched Saturday’s match, commenting on Lee Keun-Ho’s shooting as ‘American football.’   It was hilarious and yet there’s much to unpack from that statement. Lee had one incredible run in the 1st half – a cheeky move on his part, he got clear to go one-on-one with the keeper. The goal to equalize for Korea was his for the taking. The 2012 Asian Player of the Year, the Asian Champions League MVP that year, the player who was linked to top flight European clubs in the recent past, Lee Keun-Ho -skied the shot well over the crossbar.  And with that one of the best chances for Korea to get on the board evaporated. The ESPN commentators were right in this case – if it was any World Cup contending national team, that was an shooting opportunity that had to at least be on frame -and playing the odds, most likely a goal.  Lee’s form ‘ain’t what it used to be’. He’s still got that work rate, he’s still got hustle, he’s still got talent. That finishing might be indicative of his time rotting in the 2nd tier of Korean football (soon to be updated since his military team Sangmu won promotion for the upcoming season). Is military conscription a problem that is systemically a problem for Korean football?  The answer lies with that 34th minute – the ball going high over the crossbar – frozen in time.

About Jeremy Paek 33 Articles
Korean footy fan/lover of life based in Los Angeles.

5 Comments

  1. I would disagree with just one of the points regarding LKH. He has never had good finishing. I don’t think it’s indicative of him playing 2nd tier, it’s indicative of his track record. His stats seem to confirm my observations. It’s possible I missed something though. When would be a period people thought LKH had a good consistent finishing?

    • Playing in the 2nd division did affect Lee KH, but probably not his finishing per se. It probably lowered his overall game sharpness as the training wasn’t as good, he had more time and space to take advantage of, etc. People forget that Lee was a wide midfielder for most of his career. It wasn’t until recent that he was shifted more centrally, and even then he played as a second striker/attacking midfielder. He IS NOT a pure forward, and I think that people forget this sometimes.

      • Good points by Jae and Daniel. I’m not the LKH expert by no means, but observing him in the latter stages of the Asian Champions League tournament in 2012, he was so much more dynamic I thought. His finishing was way better imo during that period. Now LKH before that – honestly I don’t know as I wasn’t as closely attuned to what was happening at Ulsan & in the K-league .
        I’ve tried to but was unsuccessful in seeing him in action at Sangmu last season. Jae put it better than I could, I have difficulty making a more incisive assessment, but I sense something different, something lacking compared to his form in the run up to Ulsan winning Asia in Nov 2012.

  2. I have a good feeling this team will show as we get closer to summer. There are too many cocky dudes on this team not to show some face. One things different in my perception of KNT these days as opposed to years past…with regard to the A team anyway, and thats confidence is in no short supply. Most of these guys have a taste of how it is to play with non Ks now which was new ground to me 10 years ago. Part of the reason I love Lee Chung Yong most is his spirit. Ki is borderline arrogant. Ok he is arrogant.

    Though I was against it initially, I think Park CY knows he will have a lot to prove. He’s going to have to bring his absolute A game and he knows it. I do think the offense will makes us forget we have issues on the back line and in goal.

    I’d rather have more goals honestly.

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