2015 K League Preview: Pohang Steelers/Ulsan Hyundai

It’s back! A chaotic week for me (Tim, find me on Twitter @korfan12) but I’ve finally gotten around to getting this posted. (Maybe four days isn’t much of a wait but seeing how I’ve been working on this every day, it was for me.) I plan on doing Incheon soon, dear reader who requested for them. Anyhow, to make up for it, here’s a double-header!

A preview on Pohang Steelers and Ulsan Hyundai Horangi. Bad blood is definitely between these two teams. They have a derby with each other and one of their most famous matches was the 2013 K League “Final” where Pohang snatched the title away from Ulsan in injury time. But both teams are off the back of a disappointing year – can they recover? + Tavern halftime: A day in Korean history all Koreans should know.


City: Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province
Stadium: Pohang Steelyard (20,000)
Average 2014 Attendance: 9,801 (4th)

Manager: Hwang Sun-Hong
Captain: Hwang Ji-Soo
Ownership: POSCO

Founded: 1973 (First K League season in 1983)
K League Championships: 5 (1986, 1988, 1992, 2007, 2013)
Korean FA Cups: 4 (1996, 2008, 2012, 2013)

The Pohang Steelers are one of the most consistently successful teams in recent times. In fact, they have finished among the top 5 clubs for 10 of the last 11 seasons. Originally named POSCO FC when founded in 1973 (as a semi-pro club) the franchise later became the POSCO Dolphins and the POSCO Atoms. The Steelers are 3 times AFC Champions League Champions and 5 times K League victors. They also were the first club to build a soccer-specific stadium in the country, “The Steelyard.” They also have finished 3rd in the FIFA Club World Cup (in 2009), another first for Korean football.

The reason for all these steel-related names is that the company that owns the club, POSCO, serves the steel industry.

Famous Former Players/Managers: Lee Hwe-Taek (as player and manager), Park Tae-Ha, Kim Byung-Ji (also played for Ulsan), Hong Myung-Bo, Hwang Sun-Hong (as player and manager), Lee Dong-Gook (now with Jeonbuk), Huh Jung-Moo (as manager), Sergio Farais (as manager, former Brazil youth NT manager).

The Pohang Steelyard.

2014 Season
2014 Season Result: 4th Place (58 pts)

After a double in 2013 (and securing that title in the derby with Ulsan in the final minute of injury time!), Pohang’s 2014 season was certainly disappointing. They started brightly with Lee Myeong-Joo and Kim Seung-Dae combining very well to have Pohang top the league for close to three months. However, the sale of the former and the latter’s inconsistency (and Asian Games call-up) left manager Hwang Sun-Hong scratching his head for ways to remedy his team’s predicament. Ultimately, the Steelers fell out of the AFC CL spots on the final matchday at the hands of FC Seoul.

Transfer Window
Pohang’s transfer window has seen them leave their Korean players only policy that they were using for the past few years. Replacing Lee Myeong-Joo in the playmaking role will be former Bolton man, and probably one of the most talented players in the K League, Andre Moritz. They have also signed center forward Lazar Veselinovic from Serbia and Brazilian midfielder Tiago Alves. On the way out is veteran defender Kim Hyung-Il, going to a stacked Jeonbuk side.

Andre Moritz (on the right) with Pohang manager Hwang Sun-Hong (on the left).

Players to Watch
Pohang have been known for their own adaptation of tiki-taka, “Steel-Taka”. Indeed, their teams have the reputation to string together some very impressive passing moves. Andre Moritz will be of a big help in that regard as he has already demonstrated his impressive ability to thread the ball to the forwards in pre-season friendlies. If Pohang will conserve this style of play, this approach, Moritz will be fundamental to the Steelers’ success.

Other forwards to watch include Kim Seung-Dae, who was excellent at his peak last season, doing everything a modern center-forward should, and Kang Soo-Il, known for his pace on the wing (although his finishing is atrocious.)

Key To Success
USE THE MIDDLE: I fear about being redundant here – but Pohang’s strongest weapons are up the middle of the pitch – and I’m talking about Moritz again. Whereas so many K League teams play direct football, Pohang have enough players with technical skill to play a passing game. They must stick to their guns and Moritz needs to do what Lee Myeong-Joo couldn’t do in the second half of last season. If he can, Pohang become, once again, a very dangerous side.

Pohang are not playing in the Asian Champions League this year, and perhaps this is somewhat of a blessing in disguise. They don’t necessarily have strong depth but they do have players who have performed for this club in the past and are fully capable of doing so again. A strong league finish is not out of the question for a new-look (with foreign players), but strong core, Pohang side.


All times KST. Does not include R34-R38 of the K League Classic (after the split), promotion/relegation playoffs, Asian Champions League KO stages, KFA Cup games or the FIFA Club World Cup.


Today (March 1st) is the 96th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in Korea. Although it’s not the day that ended Japanese colonial rule, “Samiljeol” marks the day where 33 Korean nationalists and students proclaimed Korea’s independence from the Japanese Empire.

We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. […]

Nearly 2 million Koreans participated in peaceful demonstrations across the country, but the Japanese police and military were called in and opened fire. The protests turned into a bloody massacre. 7,509 people were killed, thousands more injured and arrested. The day marks Korea’s long and painful road to independence, with the formation of a government in exile following the day’s tragic yet historic events.

We will never forget. Daehanminguk Manse.



City: Ulsan Metropolitan City
Stadium: Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium (44,102) (AKA The Big Crown)
Average 2014 Attendance: 7,301 (5th)

Manager: Yoon Jung-Hwan
Captain: Kim Chi-Gon
Ownership: Hyundai Heavy Industries

Founded: 1983 (First K League season in 1984)
K League Championships: 2 (1996, 2005)
Korean FA Cups: 0

One of two Hyundai-owned teams, Hyundai FC was founded in 1983 in the city of Incheon, their maiden year seeing them finish in 3rd. They then moved to the Gangwon Province before finally settling in Ulsan in 1990 as Ulsan Hyundai Horangi (Horangi = Tiger in Korean). Their results were varied in their first decade there, winning their first title in 1996 and finishing dead last in 2000. They have since finished 2nd on 4 occasions, their lone title in the last 14 seasons being in 2005, if you don’t count the dominant 2012 team that won the Asian Champions League undefeated. Essentially, Ulsan are a top-half squad whose results vary every year.

Famous Former Players/Managers: Huh Jung-Moo, Choi Kang-Hee (as players, both KNT managers later on in their careers), Choi Young-Il, Choi In-Yeong, Kim Byung-Ji, Yoo Sang-Chul, Yoo Gyeong-Ryeol, Seo Dong-Myung, Lee Chun-Soo, Lee Ho, Kim Young-Kwang, Lee Yong, Lee Keun-Ho, Cha Bum-Kun (as manager, later worked for Suwon)

Then captain Kwak Tae-Hwi hoisting the 2012 Asian Champions League trophy.

2014 Season
2014 Season Result: 6th Place (50 pts)

Last season was a major disappointment for Ulsan. Pre-season, they were tipped as serious contenders to finish on the podium and perhaps challenge for the title. But that year never really got going, and new manager Cho Min-Kook was an easy target to blame. Sure, the injury to Kim Shin-Wook at the end of the season was difficult to cope with, but Ulsan should really have done better with the squad they had at their disposal. Themselves and their south-east rivals, Pohang, both finished out of the ACL spots for the first time since 2011.

Transfer Window
Ulsan have a new manager in Yoon Jung-Hwan. He’s a very good managerial acquisition and he has had great success in the Japanese league. Case in point – he got his former club Sagan Tosu promoted in 2011, finish 5th in the top tier in 2012, make the semi-finals of the Emperor’s Cup in 2013 before another 5th place finish in 2014. They have gone from a second level-side all their history into serious contenders.

So, there is hope that Yoon will be able to turn Ulsan around from their poor 2014 season. Of course, this means signings. Enter Kim Tae-Hwan and Server Djeparov. The latter is the Uzbekistan National Team captain, and an excellent playmaker – Kim Tae-Hwan another influential midfielder. Both of these players were nabbed from Seongnam FC. They also get future KNT player Im Chang-Woo back from loan, as well as sign Incheon defensive mid Koo Bon-Sang.

On the flipside, Lee Yong, who featured for the KNT in the 2014 World Cup as a rightback, has gone to complete his military service at Sangju Sangmu, while solid backup goalkeeping option Kim Young-Kwang has left for Seoul E-Land.

“I want to build a resilient, feared team.” -New Ulsan manager Yoon Jung-Hwan

Players to Watch

Ulsan’s strength will lie in attack this year. Kim Shin-Wook will be important to hold on to, and it seems that he will at least play for the Korean club until the summer transfer window, after being linked to various English clubs. The towering striker is known as the Korean Crouch for his anormal height. Providing him with service will be a strong midfield core of Tarta-Djeparov-Kim Tae Hwan. (If KSW was to transfer to Europe, Yang Dong-Hyun is an average option to replace him. He’ll probably have to step it up to fill KSW’s shoes.)

Don’t forget that Ulsan’s goalkeeper is Kim Seung-Gyu, who has played a game at the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 Asian Cup and remains a very good option for the Korean National Team. Also look out for Asian Games hero Im Chang-Woo – the right-back can also play as a wing-back or centre-back. He contributes very well in attack, is a reputable defender, and has plenty of potential. Their captain is seasoned centre-back Kim Chi-Gon.

Yeah. He’s pretty tall. Kim Shin-Wook (#9) scoring vs Costa Rica in 2014.

Key To Success
NEW BOSS, NEW BEGINNING: It’s a new season for Ulsan, with a new manager in Yoon Jung-Hwan. It’s important that the new group of players are able to mesh quickly with Yoon’s system. It’s a rather simple key to success, but one that is very true.

Ulsan have assembled a talented squad this year. Perhaps they are a bit thin in defense, but with some of Yoon’s magic, the Hyundai Horangi should take a spot in the 2016 Asian Champions League. Anything else would be another disappointing season. I’ll call them to finish runners-up because why not.

K LEAGUE RESULT: 2nd Place (I don’t necessarily expect them to finish here, but why the hell not.)

All times KST. Does not include R34-R38 of the K League Classic (after the split), promotion/relegation playoffs, Asian Champions League KO stages, KFA Cup games or the FIFA Club World Cup.

Tomorrow and Monday, I take a look at the two Jeolla-do teams – tomorrow, a short(er) read on the Jeonnam Dragons, and Monday, a look at the reigning champions, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors!


About Tim Lee 321 Articles
The maple syrup guzzling kimchijjigae craving Korean-Canadian, eh?


  1. Nice previews Tim, but a couple things. Kang Il-Soo returned to Jeju (was on loan) and Hyundai own three teams. Busan is owned by Hyundai Development Company, last year the team’s official president wad none other thsn Chung Mong-gyu himself!

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