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Old players can teach young teammates new tricks

K League 1 veterans prove experience counts on the pitch
Sept 18,2019
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From left: Park Chu-young of FC Seoul, Kim Bo-kyung of Ulsan Hyundai and Lee Dong-gook of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. [K LEAGUE]
The K League 1 veterans are using their years of experience to lead their clubs to the top of the regular season leaderboard. From scoring goals to picking up assists and defending, the veterans are proving that experience really does matter on the football pitch.

Looking at the regular season standing, the veterans of the top three clubs - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Ulsan Hyundai and FC Seoul - stand out the most.

Jeonbuk forward Lee Dong-gook is essentially a walking K League history book. Now playing his 21st season, Lee has been part of the league for more than half of its 36-year history and he’s still going strong, once again proving to be Jeonbuk’s best problem solver.

During a match against Sangju Sangmu at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in North Jeolla on Saturday, Lee scored the winner in the 82nd minute to lead the team to a 2-1 victory. This was Lee’s first goal since a match against Ulsan on July 14.

With the goal, Lee improved his K League career attacking points to 299, which includes 222 goals and 77 assists. If Lee adds one more goal or an assist this season, he will become the first player ever in the K League to reach 300.

This season, Lee scored seven goals and two assists in 25 matches. Although he has a big personal achievement ahead of him, he is thinking more about Jeonbuk’s victory than his own.

“Keeping the K League trophy is more important than personal statistics,” Lee said. “Since Jeonbuk experienced wins quite a number of times, our players have winning in their DNA. In any situation we face, our players know how to get through it. I’m expecting [to win] this year too.”

Just as Lee said, Jeonbuk is the current leader in the K League 1 standing at 18 wins, nine draws and two losses, totaling 63 points, but their win won’t be too easy compared to other seasons, as Ulsan has been closely chasing after them.

Since the start of the season, Ulsan has been regularly mentioned as a likely team to defeat Jeonbuk, and they’re living up to such expectations as they’ve been taking turns in the top spot. Behind Ulsan’s success is Kim Bo-kyung, another veteran.

In 27 matches, Kim has scored 11 goals and added six assists, good enough to be ranked fourth in goals and seventh in assists in the league. From Kim’s impressive performance, he has regularly been mentioned as one of three MVP candidates, along with foreign player Ricardo Lopes Pereira of Jeonbuk and Cesar Fernando Silva Melo of Daegu FC.

Kim received even more attention this season, when Ulsan temporarily had to play without their head coach.

Ulsan’s head coach is banned for five matches after reacting strongly to a referee’s decision. Due to this, Ulsan will have to play without their head coach until the match against Gangwon FC on Sept. 22. Despite the absence, Kim’s been leading the club with captain Lee Keun-ho and Park Joo-ho.

Thanks to Kim and the other two veterans, Ulsan has stayed in second with 17 wins, nine draws and three losses, totaling 60 points.

“We gave away the lead to Jeonbuk, but our goal is to win,” Kim said. “We never expected a K League victory to come easily. We have a great team atmosphere, and we are filled with motivation to reach the top. There will be a chance for us to flip our ranking.”

Seoul is further away from the lead, but they’ve been playing through the season strong with veteran Park Chu-young. During Seoul’s match against Incheon United on Sunday, Park scored a goal and picked up two assists to lead Seoul to a 3-1 come-from-behind victory.

With the win, Seoul is finally ended their no-win streak over the past four games. This season, Park is evaluated to be having his second peak of his career. In 26 matches, he scored seven goals and seven assists, totaling 14 attacking points.

This is the best start since his K League 1 debut season in 2005, as he scored 18 goals and four assists, totaling 30 attacking points.

“[Regardless of age or role], it’s always a great thing to help my team,” Park said. “Whether I’m playing for the team or not, Seoul always have to be offensive so they can win.”

Currently, the K League 1’s regular season standing looks like a fierce competition between Jeonbuk and Ulsan. However, this can all change after playing their 33rd match as the season heads into the split round. In the split round, the 12 teams in the K League 1 are divided into two groups of six.

The top six teams will be playing the last five matches against each others to compete for the title, while the bottom six teams will be competing to avoid demotion to the K League 2.

BY SONG JI-HOON [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]