Defending K League 1 champions Ulsan Hyundai are not what they used to be. After the departure of central midfielder Park Yong-woo, it will be interesting to see if the faltering Ulsan side can regain the form they showed early in the league.
Until the beginning of last month, Ulsan looked like a force to be reckoned with. Ulsan led the way with just two losses through Round 16. Furthermore, they went on a five-game winning streak from rounds 17 to 21. Ulsan was so dominant that there was even talk of them winning the league early.
메이저놀이터 Then something happened. Park Yong-woo, who was coordinating the midfield, moved to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). After sparking a racism controversy when he compared his dark-skinned teammate Lee Myung-jae to Sasalak, a Thai left full-back who played for Jeonbuk Hyundai, Park left the K League a month after the controversy broke.
Park wore the captain’s armband in his farewell match against Pohang Steelers on 8 March. Ulsan went on to win 1-0 against Pohang.
However, Ulsan faltered immediately after Park’s departure. On 12 December, they lost 1-2 at home to Incheon United. It was their first home loss of the season.
Ulsan followed that up with a 1-3 loss against Suwon Samsung on the 15th. The shock was even greater for Suwon, as they were in the relegation zone. They bounced back with a 2-1 home win over Jeju United on the 21st, but were held to a goalless draw at Daegu FC on the 5th of this month. In Daegu, they almost lost again, conceding a crucial goal to Vassellus in the last minute of the game.
[SEOUL NEWS] Park Yong-woo of Ulsan. 2023.07.02. (Photo courtesy of the Korea Football Association) *Resale and DB prohibited
For Ulsan, it is urgent to fill Park’s void. Ulsan has been using Kim Min-hyuk and Bojanic as replacements since Park’s departure, but they have yet to find their feet.
With their dominance in the centre of midfield not quite what it used to be, Ulsan will host 12th-placed Gangwon FC, who are bottom of the league, at 7.30pm on 12 December at Gangneung Sports Complex. Ulsan has been strong enough against Gangwon to go 24 games unbeaten (21 wins and four draws) for nearly 11 years, and has won both meetings this season.
Filling the void of Park Yong-woo will be key if Ulsan is to regain its early season form.