Picture this moment: it’s the 21st minute of your first ever start in a World Cup match, Marcus Berg is baring down on your net and he’s ready to shoot. What do you do?
If you’re Cho Hyun-woo, you make your body big, you get in position, and you hold your ground. What happens next? Well, we all know the answer. Cho pulled off a miraculous save, scrambled to his feet, and then punched the ball to safety. Although yesterday’s match was largely disappointing, a new star was created in that moment. But who is he? Who is the man Daegu FC fans call Dae Gea?
I’m going to level with you here. I didn’t know much about him either until he burst onto the scene last year at the EAFF E-1 Championship. So I asked the biggest Daegu FC fan I know. He goes by @Daegu_freak on Twitter and he is a diehard proud to see a Daegu player making it to the world’s biggest stage. You know what he told me? Here was the best quote in all it’s elegance: “He rose above the surface of water in 2013 when he joined Daegu FC”. Before that, there just wasn’t much talk about him. We talked about his youth career and how Cho only gained a total of 4 caps for the U20 and U23 teams. He wasn’t chosen for a youth World Cup squad and didn’t make the Asian Games in 2014. The word unheralded came up a lot in conversation. Cho Hyun-woo just wasn’t this GK prospect that the Korean football scene was talking about.
He was just a hard-working goalkeeper always working to get better. And get better he did. Cho Hyun-woo excelled in the U League (Korea’s version of NCAA Men’s Soccer, if you will) for Sunmoon University and was selected by Daegu FC in the 2013 K League Draft. That’s where his career took off and where he still plays to this day. Cho was a huge part of Daegu FC winning promotion back to the K League 1 in the 2016 season, and he won 2 straight goalkeeper of the season awards in the K League 2! What did he do in his debut K League 1 season last year? He won goalkeeper of the season again! That was his ticket to the senior national team. Solid, consistent play in the net for Daegu FC.
So when he was finally in the senior national team I began to notice his game and I immediately liked what I saw. You saw in my goalkeeper preview that even though I predicted he would be the No. 2 GK to Kim Seung-gyu (a much more heralded KNT prospect by the way), I argued that I thought he had earned the No. 1 jersey. And what do you know? Shin Tae-yong gave it to him and he impressed against Sweden in a valiant losing effort. My opinion about yesterday’s match was this: if Cho Hyun-woo wasn’t in the net the score would have been much worse. He was immense, he was composed, and he was ready for the moment.
What does Cho do so well and why is he called Dae Gea (a play on Daegu and David De Gea) by his fans? Well, fans say his build is similar to De Gea’s and they have a similar style in goal. I see that comparison and I believe Cho Hyun-woo earned that nickname yesterday. Let’s go back to that save because it’s the crux of the comparison to David De Gea. Cho pulled off a wondersave reminiscent of De Gea and he has the same attitude in that moment that De Gea has. De Gea makes great saves not only because he has great positioning, but because he remains confident in the moment. He makes his body big, he dives quickly for a header, you name it. He knows he’s going to come up big. Cho in that moment was exactly the same. He was in position and he made his body big. He was stable and confident that he would make the save and he did. Whether it came off his leg, his face, his arm, whatever, he came up huge on a moment many other goalkeepers may have missed the save and had to pick the ball out of the back of the net.
And then what did Cho do next? Like De Gea, he stayed collected, got up quickly and punched away the rebound to safety. It’s that quick decision-making and confidence that was so refreshing in the net yesterday. I felt confident that he could come up with saves while I was watching the match and many in the comments have said he reminds us of Lee Woon-jae (the last Korean GK legend in my opinion) in goal. Cho, simply put, is showing himself to be a great goalkeeper that has the skills that many didn’t know he had. He is confident on set pieces, he commands his box, he makes good punches away from danger, and he makes good saves. His distribution needs some work but yesterday’s possession debacle wasn’t on him. Yesterday, Cho Hyun-woo was a star goalkeeper.
You know what is even better about this story? Cho said after the match that he was disappointed in his performance. He thought he could have done better. You know what I say to that? Hell yes! Stay motivated! Make Daegu proud Dae Gea.
Here’s to seeing more of Dae Gea in the years to come.