Report Card: Suwon Samsung's progress after 12 games

Report Card: Suwon Samsung's progress after 12 games
Report Card: Suwon Samsung's progress after 12 games

Suwon Samsung have played every team once so this feels like an opportune time to rank the Bluewings and how they have fared in their first season at this level. Unfortunately, their prospects of automatic promotion are looking more distant after a dismal run of results. For this report card, we'll focus on the goals conceded.

One month ago, Suwon Samsung exited Anyang Stadium with three points and sole possession of first place in the table. The result (3-1) and performance felt significant. The media section was full and even Korean football's most recognised commentator, Bae Seong-jae, was there to call the game live on TV. FC Anyang were top and unbeaten, but Suwon comfortably brushed them aside. The verdict was clear: Suwon are going up, and it is only a matter of when, not if.

The assembled journalists were waiting outside the Suwon dressing room. Who would be pulled aside for an interview? Kim Hyun continued his rich vein of form with the team's second goal. 20-year-old Kim Ju-chan scored the first and was man-of-the-match. Captain Yang Hyeong-mo wasn't far behind for that accolade. I caught up with Fejsal Mulić. Suwon were buzzing. Mulić said the atmosphere is amazing and it doesn't matter who starts game-to-game because the manager, Yeom Ki-hun, was always tinkering with his line-ups, giving most players a chance.

Manager Yeom was the first to emerge from the dressing room, closely followed by his coaching staff. The mixed zone at Anyang Stadium is a long, dark corridor running the length of the away end, from the dressing room to the team's bus. We were made to stand to one side, bow politely to Yeom, and offer our congratulations. The manager didn't make eye contact but he smiled and made his way to the team bus.

Above the mixed zone, the last remaining fans greeted the manager and players as they boarded the bus. There was a carnival atmosphere in the stands. Suwon's supporters let off hundreds of red, blue, and white balloons. They had three goals and three points to celebrate.

Four weeks later, it is looking increasingly likely that that walk under the dimly lit corridor might be the high point of Yeom's reign as Suwon's manager. The club legend and former captain is fighting for his job this weekend after a truly disastrous run of form that has seen his team drop from 1st to 4th, eight points off first. In 12 matches this season, Suwon have lost 5, including the last three. From a possible 12 points after Anyang, they've taken one. Only Ansan Greeners, perennial strugglers, have been beaten more often.

Even more worryingly, this horrendous run of form fell during what could reasonably be considered the club's easiest set of fixtures this season. All four games were against teams in the bottom half, and three were in Big Bird. Mulić's 97th-minute equalizer against Gyeongnam is the only thing that stands between 0 points and a measly single point.

In attack, the goals have dried up. Mulić misses too many chances he should be burying (and he knows it). Kim Hyun hasn't found the net since Anyang. Kim Ju-chan has one for the season, in 11 appearances. Goalscoring was a massive problem last season and it is again this term. Their record, thus far, of 17 in 12 games is seven shy of Seoul E-Land, and eight of those came in two games (5 vs. Jeonnam Dragons and 3 vs. Anyang). In eight games, Suwon scored 0 or 1 and have not celebrated a goal in 180 minutes of football.

Defensively, the problems are not as bleak but damaging nonetheless. Seven home games, seven goals conceded. It is unfathomable that the Bluewings haven't recorded a single clean sheet on their home patch this season. As we're about to find out, almost all of the goals were preventable; the number of times a striker is standing unmarked in front of Yang Hyeong-mo is frightening. A communication and leadership vacuum is running right through this team. The last clean sheet was in Round 5. Incidentally, that was Han Ho-gang's most recent appearance. His defensive colleagues have a knack for picking up red cards, too.

With more low points than highs, should Yeom Ki-hun and his backroom staff be feeling the heat? Obviously, they aren't the only ones failing spectacularly over the last month. Sloppy errors in defense, midfielders not tracking back, defenders getting sent off, and strikers not taking good opportunities points to an entire set-up underperforming. But the buck stops with the manager, right?

The record so far

Suwon Bluewings are currently 4th in the table.

vs. Chungnam Asan (H), won 2-1

vs. Seoul E-Land (A), lost 2-1

vs. Ansan Greeners (A), won 1-0

vs. Busan IPark (H), lost 1-0

vs. Chungbuk Cheongju FC (A), won 1-0

vs. Jeonnam Dragons (H), won 5-1

vs. Gimpo FC (H), won 2-1

vs. FC Anyang (A), won 3-1

vs. Gyeongnam FC (H), drew 1-1

vs. Seongnam FC (A), lost 2-1

vs. Cheonan City FC (H), lost 1-0

vs. Bucheon FC 1995 (H), lost 1-0

Matches played: 12

Won: 6     Drew: 1     Lost: 5

Goals For: 17     Goals Against: 12

Points: 19

Position: 4th

Home Form: Played 7, Won 3, Drew 1, Lost 3.

Points 10. Goal difference +3.

Away Form: Played 5, Won 3, Drew 0, Lost 2.

Points 9. Goal difference +2.

Defense wins championships, but not this one

It is worth remembering that the Bluewings were relegated last season on goals scored; or, a lack of (35). Suwon had an identical record with their neighbors Suwon FC (eight wins, nine draws, and 21 losses for 33 points). Even though they conceded far fewer (57 to 76) and their goal difference was -22 compared to Suwon FC's -33, K League rules state that in the event of two or more teams finishing level on points, goals scored will be the determining factor. Daejeon Hana Citizen, in 8th, even conceded more goals than Suwon. What relegated the Bluewings was a derisory 0.9 goals per game, throughout a 38-match season.

In the next report, after 24 games, we will look at what progress Suwon have made (if any) against all the teams, whether they won, drew, or lost the first time around.

Here is a list of the 12 goals conceded, who scored them, for what team, the time of the goal, and what the score became as a result of that goal.

#1 Jung Ma-ho, Chungnam Asan FC, 69' (2-1)

18-year-old debutant Jung Ma-ho started and finished this move. Collecting a throw in, he nutmegged Kim Sang-jun and was on hand to cut a first time shot beyond Yang Hyeong-mo. The damage was done by Park Dae-hoon taking on the Suwon defense, getting past Baek Dong-gyu on the goal line before his cutback found the unmarked Jung.

A bad goal to concede? Baek was beaten all ends up, outmuscled and outfought, but this was a good goal from a teenage prodigy.

#2 Bruno Silva, Seoul E-Land, 53' (1-0)

This was an absolute mess of a goal. Kim Ju-chan lost possession on halfway which soon led to a classic goal-mouth scramble. Despite having nine defenders in the box, mostly ball watching, Bruno was just standing unmarked 4 yards out to rifle home. The Bluewings has numerous opportunities to clear or find the extra man, but no one took on the responsibility.

A bad goal to concede? Ikoba did well to keep the opportunity alive, but a half dozen Suwon defenders were standing around watching. Leaving a player unmarked, especially one as talented as Bruno, is unforgivable.

#3 Jo Dong-jae, Seoul E-Land, 94' (2-1)

If you're gonna lose, it might as well be from a stunning injury-time volley. Suwon had vociferous claims for a penalty waved away but much like the first goal, they had plenty of men back (8), and yet Jo Dong-jae ghosts into position on the edge of the box completely unmarked. The finish was exceptional.

A bad goal to concede? As you'll learn, a common theme is Suwon having men back but no communication or leadership at the back.

#4 Fessin, Busan IPark, 24' (0-1)

Without Ricardo Lopes' industry and vision, it is unlikely Busan score this goal, and the former Jeonbuk and Suwon FC player absolutely loved rubbing it in. Lopes won an aerial duel and then kept the move alive by chasing down a cross on the left. He hooked it back for Fessin to smash home. Incredibly, Fessin was standing unmarked 10 yards out. Han Ho-gang was the only Suwon player to spot the danger but he was too late. That neither Lee Jong-sung (a pattern that will develop) nor Kazuka Kuzoku tracked back sufficiently was inexcusable.

A bad goal to concede? Lopes' contribution was outstanding but by now it is clear there is a lack of leadership in defense. No one knows who to pick up. Ball watching and filling space as opposed to tracking men is a feature of this team.

#5 Park Tae-yong, Jeonnam Dragons, 8' (1-1)

Seven minutes in and leading 1-0, Jo Yoon-sung (he has an error in him) played a dreadful ball across the edge of his box, that had too much pace for Yoo Je-ho to collect. Noh Geon-woo retrieved the loose ball, cut it back for Park Tae-yong who fired it first time into the roof of the net. Great finish but...

A bad goal to concede? Jo Yoon-sung was under pressure but a more sympathetic inside ball to Yoo Je-ho would not have led to the goal. Or, simply, just smash it downfield. His overhit pass invited danger and Jeonnam capitalised.

#6 Park Kyung-rok, Gimpo FC, 51' (1-1)

The first set-piece goal conceded so far. Leonard Pllana's excellent delivery was met at the back post by Luis Mina. Instead of going for goal, the striker headed it back across goal for Park to finish from five yards.

A bad goal to concede? Hard to say. Mina did well to keep the chance alive and even though Suwon had 10 men in the box, the ball, rather fortuitously, bounced into Park's path. These goals happen.

#7 Kim Woong, FC Anyang, 95' (3-1)

The match was over as a contest when Kim Woong grabbed a late consolation for Anyang. As Matheus lined up his 25-yard free kick Suwon were clearly expecting a cross into the box. They never formed a wall allowing the Brazilian to get his shot on target. Yang Hyeong-mo found the free too hot to handle, spilling the ball into Kim's path.

A bad goal to concede? Matheus had served warning of his set-piece prowess earlier in the game. Yang spilled that free kick, too, but Suwon got away with it. Why were they lined up expecting him to cross into the box? It was obvious he would have a strike at goal. When Yang failed to gather, no Suwon player reacted quickly enough.

#8 Lee Jun-jae, Gyeongnam FC, 55' (0-1)

Gyeongnam took the lead, benefitting from a huge slice of luck. Kim Ju-chan's clearance ricochetted off Lee's leg, leaving Yang helpless in goal. However, the break which led to the goal was top class. 10 seconds after Gyeongnam keeper Park Dong-hyuk gathered a cross, the visitors were 1-0 up. Lee collected the pass from his keeper, broke up field, and was on hand to take the return pass. The finish was fortunate but the Gyeongnam's bravery was rewarded.

A bad goal to concede? Suwon were completely caught out chasing an opening goal. When Lee broke down field, Gyeongnam had 3-on-2. But Suwon were unfortunate.

#9 Leonardo Ruiz, Seongnam FC, 34' (1-0)

This goal was ruled out for offside by the referee's assistant after Ruiz headed home Jeong Seung-yong's superb free kick. However, after a VAR review, the goal stood and Seongnam were ahead against the run of play. The Bluewings were caught napping by a simple training ground routine. Three Seongnam players waltzed in behind their line of defense, and it was Ruiz who applied the finish.

A bad goal to concede? The biggest crime here was all the Suwon defenders held their line instead of anticipating where the ball was going. They looked completely caught out by a basic free kick routine.

#10 Kim Hoon-min, Seongnam FC, 96' (2-0)

The Bluewimgs were chasing an equalizer deep into injury time, leaving themselves open to a goal on the break. And that's what happened here. Kim Hoon-min's finish was glorious, opening his body up and curling a wonderful shot into the top right-hand corner. Yang had no chance. However, the goal came from another Suwon mistake in midfield. A breakdown in communication on the left wing led to Kim intercepting a loose ball. He was allowed to travel 30 yards, turned Jo Yoon-sung inside-out, and fired home. Jo's half-assed attempt to make a tackle did not go unnoticed.

A bad goal to concede? The end result was glorious, especially in the driving rain. But a misplaced pass and Jo buying a dummy was catastrophic.

#11 Bruno Mota, Cheonan City, 55, (0-1)

Bruno was magnificent in this game, leading from the front with a terrific offensive and defensive display in a classic backs-against-the-wall display. The Brazilian started and ended this move, teeing up Koo Dae-young down the right, before ghosting into the box and applying the finish. The marking was, predictably, absolutely dreadful from the home team. As Bruno laid the ball on for Koo, he clattered into Lee Jong-sung. For some reason, Lee switched oof. Instead of tracking the game's most dangerous player, he is fixated on Koo and the ball. By the time Bruno collected Koo's cross, Lee was totally out of position, five yards from an unmarked Bruno, who won the match.

A bad goal to concede? There was a lot to admire in Cheonan's performance, Bruno's individual showing, and the way they finished this chance. But the abysmal defending of Lee, Suwon's midfield lynchpin, was truly shocking. Ball watching, not tracking his man, and generally having no understanding of where the danger was coming from are not the attributes you associate with a player in his position.

#12 Yang Hyeong-mo (OG), Bucheon FC 1995, 76, (0-1)

It must have stung many inside Big Bird that one of the game's best players, and the man whose corner led to the only goal, is a former Bluewing. Rodrigo Bassani scored the match winner in Sangam on the penultimate weekend of last season preserving Suwon's status as a K League 1 team for another weekend. He was released over winter. His pass led to the tackle which saw Baek Dong-gyu red carded and his inswinging corner with 15 minutes to play came off Suwon's goalkeeper and into his own net.

A bad goal to concede? Bassani's delivery was on the money but, as a goalkeeper, if you're coming off your line to meet a corner, you have to clear everything in your path and make good contact. Yang did neither. He misread the flight of the ball, crashed into his own player, and was helpless as the ball brushed off his body into the empty net.

Best Player

Kim Hyun

A month ago, this was an easy decision but Kim Hyun, like the rest of the Suwon squad, is suffering from a chronic shortage of confidence since Anyang. The former Suwon FC striker has won the battle with Mulić for the starting slot (playing 129 more minutes than the Serbian), scoring four goals (same as Mulić) and contributing five assists (by far the most at the club). The 31-year-old hasn't found the net since doubling Suwon's lead in Anyang last month.

Historically, Kim Hyun has never been a prolific striker. His best season to date was eight goals in 31 appearances for Suwon FC in 2022. But as long as he is providing assists (like he did for Mulić's late leveller against Gyeongnam) he will retain his place in the starting eleven. The problem is Suwon have been goal shy for several seasons and with Mulić spurning good opportunities, more responsibility will fall upon a man with 47 career goals in 259 appearances.

Best U-22 Player

Kim Ju-chan 

In 2023, debutant attacker Kim Ju-chan was one of the few bright sparks in a traumatic relegation season for the Bluewings. Kim scored 5 goals including match winners against Pohang Steelers and Suwon FC. Pohang were suitably impressed and rumours circulated of a potential winter switch to the Steelyard. Kim stayed put and was expected to tear up the second division while continuing his education under Yeom Ki-hun. It hasn't quite worked out that way. Kim was benched in the early rounds. starting his first game against Jeonnam Dragons on April 10th. In total, he has started seven matches, scoring one goal (vs. Anyang). In 36 professional matches, he has yet to record an assist.

However, in defeat over the past two weeks, he has shown glimpses of his best. In the first half against Cheonan, Kim was the main creative source down the right flank. He faded as the second half wore on and was eventually replaced. In the Bucheon game, with his team a man down, Kim took on the entire Bucheon defense and curled a beautiful left-footed shot off the inside of the post. Minutes later, he squandered a good chance. I don't know if he's shouldering too much of the responsibility, but he does appear to be taking on too much work. Still very much a work in progress.

Yeom Ki-hun

This is Yeom's first full-time foray into professional management, having worked a short stint towards the end of 2023 as a caretaker. He was unable to keep his beloved Bluewings in K League 1 last autumn and even though results improved under his guidance, Suwon crashed out of the top tier on the final day knowing a win would have guaranteed their survival (from automatic relegation). In truth, Suwon were insipid against Gangwon, barely landing a punch, and were lucky to avoid defeat.

Despite Yeom's undoubted popularity amongst the Bluewings' faithful, his promotion as the new permanent Suwon manager was contentious. He felt like a 'yes man' appointment, with no experience. Having played alongside his men as a teammate only six months before, how would the relationship develop with Yeom as the manager? Suwon needed an experienced manager, with a track record of earning promotion. A 'get-promoted-at-all-costs' approach. The novice manager would, therefore, be better off cutting his teeth at youth level or, perhaps, leaving Suwon for a short spell and becoming the next, or the next next, manager.

Nonetheless, Yeom was appointed manager, and the results are there to be seen. He wasn't helped by numerous factors outside his control as the club looked to establish itself in the second division. Red cards to Jo Yoon-sung (on debut against his former team) and Park Dae-won inside the first three games hampered any opportunity to build a settled backline. Choi Ji-mook, a winter recruit, got injured on the first day and is out for most of the season. Park Sang-hyuk is also looking at an extended period on the sidelines. Han Ho-gang hasn't featured for nearly two months. Meanwhile, Maxwell Acosty, having previously played at this level, was released after failing to overcome an injury.

The defense would not fill you with any sort of confidence and this inability to fix issues at the back is one criticism of the management team. Added to that, the wavering influence of Japanese midfielder Kazuka Kuzoku, not knowing the best combination in central midfield or who should partner Mulić or Kim Hyun up front. Lee Sang-min began the first month on the right side of a front three, and now he's playing left back.

As Suwon embark on the next set of fixtures, the 24-game report card should give us a much clearer idea of how Yeom Ki-hun is performing. If he makes it that far, of course.

How he must wish he could wake up tomorrow, making the long walk around Anyang, soaking up praise from the media and adoration of his public. Anyang was only a month ago, but it feels like an eternity for Yeom Ki-hun.

Prospects for the Season

It is worth remembering only a third of the season has passed and Suwon are still in the promotion picture. But their form is dreadful; unable to score and unable to keep clean sheets. Suwon might win the league or get promoted via the playoffs, but the likelihood of either happening regresses after every game. Unless Yeom Ki-hun can turn this around quickly, they might be in the market for a new manager.