Olympic Friendlies Review: U23 Squad Outlook

Photo Credit: @theKFA on Instagram.

The international break has finished and I wanted to wrap up the U23 Taegeuk Warriors’ friendlies with Uzbekistan. Overall, it was a bit of a mixed bag as the squad came out victorious 3-1 on Friday 10/11 in Hwaseong but then slumped to a 2-1 defeat on Monday 10/14 in Cheonan. I’m going to go through the matches not as recaps but more as a review of who improved their chances of going to the AFC U23 Championships in January in Thailand. But first, here are the extended highlights from those matches.

10/14 Highlights via MBigNews. A 2-1 loss
A 3-1 victory on Friday 10/14.

Goalkeepers

This is an issue that Kim Hakbum will have to solve soon. Song Bumkeun played well in the victory in Hwaseong, but since he is exempt already it doesn’t make sense to include him in an Olympics roster.

The problem is that it’s not clear that there is a U23 keeper that is good enough to take us to a medal position in Tokyo. Lee Gwangyeon, the keeper who impressed so much at the U20 World Cup, has dropped off the Gangwon FC radar. He has lost his spot even in the reserves and is only watching from the bench at this point. That’s not the experience you want a prospective keeper to bring to the Olympics.

Heo Jaung, the keeper for the first half of the Monday match, performed well and definitely deserves a second look by Hakbum. However, I thought An Changi was an absolute disaster in the second half. It felt like he was easily beaten by a deflection on the equalizer. On the game winner, it’s clear his defenders are screening him from seeing the ball but I still felt that he could’ve gotten a hand to that.

In the end, I think this goalkeeper conundrum may be resolved by bringing in Choi Minhsoo (Kevin Harr). He was the backup at the U20 World Cup and has nailed down a U23 starting role at Hamburg in the Bundesliga. However, since he is only half-Korean it isn’t clear if he is required to complete military duty. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that Kim Hakbum has learned that Kevin Harr will not need to enlist and would rather help a Korean player pursue military exemption instead. The other solution would be to bring an overage keeper using one of the three wildcard picks allowed. That will probably be Gu Sungyun, Bento’s current No. 3 GK.

Defenders

This is going to be a bit of an issue for this team. Both goals in the Monday loss were preventable and lead me to believe that this defensive corps needs work. Let’s talk about who looked good and who looked weak.

Kim Jaewoo was very good in the 3-1 win, scoring a goal off a corner to equalize. I think he’s certainly getting himself into the picture for a spot in Thailand. I thought Lee Youhyeon from Jeonnam Dragons had an strong game Monday in terms of driving forward. He could contend with Hwang Taehyeon (U20s) or Yoon Jonggyu for the starting RB role. Kang Yoonsung also looks to be a solid LB option after a good game on Friday. It’s yet to be determined if Choi Jun will feature in this Olympics campaign.

In terms of the players that struggled, the CB pairing of Cha Ohyeon and Lee Sangmin wasn’t very successful in Monday’s loss. They especially failed to prevent the second goal by failing to close down the attacking players. Then, they both screened their keeper, making it far harder for him to get down low for the save. Kim Hakbum should look to bring in Kim Hyunwoo, Lee Jisol, and Lee Jaeik from the U20 squad to compete with Kim Jaewoo for starting positions. I won’t mention Kim Jinya and Jeong Taewook because they’re already exempt.

Midfielders

First of all, Kim Daewon is an absolute beast. He was a total menace on Monday as a LW and should absolutely be on the plane to Thailand to help this team qualify for the Olympics. He is likely to be in the running for K League Young Player of the Year and just has all the right offensive qualities for this squad. Maeng Sungwoong and Han Chanhee also impressed with their control in midfield and could have helped their cases for a spot in Thailand. Jung Seungwon also looked good in midfield Monday and would bring another Daegu FC player into the squad to join Daewon. However, it is a bit curious that Jeon Sejin and Cho Youngwook haven’t featured for Kim Hakbum just yet. I think they could work as attacking midfielders just like they did in Poland for the U20s.

Forwards

Let’s get this out of the way to start: Jeong Wooyeong is still really raw as a player. He played RW Monday and while he did score, he also squandered a few chances. He sometimes has a heavy first touch but also does have dribbling skills. It’s clear he’s going to be involved with this U23 Olympics run, but now we know he was overhyped at Bayern. His new coach at Freiburg is right to pump the brakes and have him continue learning at the U23 level instead of throwing him straight into the Bundesliga.

The forwards that helped their cases for a spot in Thailand were Um Wonsang, Lee Dongjun, and Oh Sehun. All three have different skills but have shown that they are the right pieces in attack. Lee Dongjun and Oh Sehun are goal poachers who help link things together in attack. Um Wonsang is a speedster who will chase balls and dribble past people into the box.

A player that struggled a bit was Jo Gyuseong from Anyang FC. He started Monday but really couldn’t get anything going for himself. The squad looked most dangerous when Kim Daewon and Jeong Wooyeong were driving forward but Jo didn’t have the finishing skills to put the game out of reach. Dropping him for Jeon Sejin would be the move I would think Kim Hakbum is thinking about.

For now, we know that there’s still some work to do for this U23 team before they head to Thailand in January. The defense needs to be shored up a bit, a solid GK needs to be found, and we need to find a few more goals up front. We’ll see if there are more friendlies during the November international break and how many U23 squad members Paulo Bento calls for his EAFF E-1 Championship squad (no foreign-based players permitted). If you have any thoughts or questions, get active in the comments!

About Michael Welch 78 Articles
That Halfie Korean-American who loves football (I mean, soccer).

6 Comments

  1. Jst curious, will Lee Kangin be included in the Olympic team if they qualify?? His vital for Korea… him and Wooyeong are vital for then to win a medal at the olympics…

  2. Thx for the writeup, good to get familiar w/ upcoming crop. Have to agree, going by the hi-lights Jeong WY doesn’t seem entirely ready, surprising; nifty in places, but lacking composure/control otherwise. Similar for Oh SH, I wanna be optimistic about him but he’s gotta show more.

    Nice linkup/thru passes particularly on fast breaks (those MFs sure can pass, if not necessarily shoot…), and tenacity to “get that ball” was admirable (tho bullying ppl off the ball after your mistake won’t work against good teams/players). But I would like to see more consistency in final third, and more sensible decision-making on defense.

    At times good things for SK seemed due more to Uzbek mistakes than SK brilliance. Opportunity falls in your lap, more than you creating it, or you give them the clear shot but they fluff it. Against better teams, those “gifts” won’t crop up as often.

    • Yeah, I really like your point here Dae. I’ve heard a lot being said that the 3-1 win was more because Uzbekistan had a man sent off.

      I think for me I just see that Hakbum is trying out a lot of different attacking options. I imagine he will be bringing in K League 1 U23 players like Cho YW, Jeon SJ, Han Seunggyu, and young Lee Keunho soon because they just have a bit more skill and experience up front compared to the K League 2 players we’re seeing so far.

    • I mean of course there is a risk of not qualifying but it’s probably not worth it to disrupt strong club season’s to include Kangin and Paik Seungho to help out. Imo, this squad can for sure make the semifinals and finals without Kangin and Seungho.

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