Suwon Samsung Bluewings’ striker Adam Taggart scored a league-leading 20 goals in his debut season in the K League last year.
Excitement is building ahead of the return of South Korea’s K League, with the sides undergoing their final preparations ahead of the big kick-off at the weekend.
Defending champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who open the season with a clash against FA Cup winners Suwon Samsung Bluewings on Friday, posted a 3-1 victory in a warm-up match against Daejeon Citizen at Jeonju World Cup Stadium on Saturday, with Son Jun-ho and Lee Seung-gi both getting on the scoresheet.
On the other hand, with a league-leading 20 goals in his debut season in the K League, Suwon’s striker Adam Taggart knows how to make an impression.
But when the coronavirus-delayed season finally kicks off on Friday with an enticing encounter against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, the Australian forward will be paying attention to much more than scoring goals for Lee Lim-saeng’s team.
“Individually last year was great, but there’s still lots I can improve on and get better at and I think for me I just want to focus on getting consistency,” says the 26-year-old. “Not necessarily in terms of goals, because I scored a lot of goals last year, but overall performances can always be better.
“Goals are great but it’s not the be all and end all for every player and I think once you’re scoring goals you want to look at all the other things you can get better at. I definitely think that I just want to be more consistent in my performances.”
Last year, Taggart’s prowess in front of goal was vital for the club he joined in February from A-League side Brisbane Roar.
His 16 goals during the regular season were followed by a further four strikes in the relegation rounds to ensure Suwon comfortably maintained their top flight status with an eighth place finish.
And, while results in the league were far from ideal for the two-time continental champions, Suwon managed to end the season on a high with victory over Daejeon Korail FC in the final of the Korean FA Cup, a victory that earned them a place in the 2020 AFC Champions League.
As a result, Suwon – like Jeonbuk, FC Seoul and Ulsan Hyundai – have already played competitive games this year in the group phase of the continental championship, and that is something Taggart believes could give his side the edge over some of their rivals.
“The most important thing is to make sure we finish a little bit higher up in the league,” he says of his hopes for the new season. “I think top six is a minimum for Suwon, so that’s definitely at the back of my mind."
“(Playing in the AFC Champions League) has probably helped us a bit. It’s broken up the time that most teams haven’t had a competitive game at all, so I think looking back on it it’s been something that will probably benefit us going into the season.
“It’s not going to make a difference in terms of fitness and stuff like that, but to have a couple of competitive games during a long break means it won’t seem that we haven’t played in a couple of years. It was only a couple of months ago or less that we played our last game, so it’s not going to give us some secret weapon going into the season but I think it’s positive for us.”
The meeting with Jeonbuk on Friday sees the domestic season in South Korea start after the opening day was postponed from its original Feb. 29 start date.
Clubs were informed on April 24 that the season would begin this coming weekend but, with social distancing regulations still in place as Korea Republic continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, matches are due to be played behind closed doors for the foreseeable future.
“I’m excited to get going,” says Taggart. “It was difficult before not having a start date or not knowing an estimated time line. No one knew what was going on so it’s nice to have a start date and something to work towards.
“It’s obviously great that the season is starting, but two weeks is a short amount of time to know that you’ve got to be ready and there are points on the line. It’s still a normal season with promotion and relegation up for grabs.
“Up until the announcement was made it’s just been important to keep ticking over, to not go overboard and use the time wisely and work on the things you want to polish up on, get yourself in the gym, work on your weaknesses, stay after training and do things that aren’t going to completely tire you out.
“It gives you an opportunity to work on a few things and it’s just about finding the right balance of just ticking over with however long they give you so that you’re not underdone and not over cooking yourself so you’re not fresh for the season either. That’s what I’ve been trying to do so far.
“We’ve had a couple of weeks, which is a short amount of time, but I’m still over the moon that we’ve got a start date and I’ll make do with the time that we have.”
Suwon will have to be on top form as they take on defending champions Jeonbuk, a club with which they share an intense rivalry. Between them, the clubs have won the league title on 11 occasions – seven for Jeonbuk and four for Suwon – while they have also both been crowned Asian champions twice.
Jeonbuk won the AFC Champions League title in 2006 and 2016 while Suwon won back-to-back Asian Club Championship titles in 2001 and 2002, the latter the final season of the competition before the creation of the AFC Champions League.
It is that history that has Taggart relishing the meeting with Jose Morais’ star-studded team, which is followed in the next round by a clash with last season’s runners-up Ulsan Hyundai.
“It’s a massive game, it’s a massive first couple of games even,” he says. “But against Jeonbuk there’s a big rivalry between us and them, so it’s a good one to start the year off to really see exactly where we’re at.
“It also gives us a chance to capitalise on maybe a lack of preparation from them as well, with them only having the two weeks, because they’re a good side. I’m looking forward to the challenge but it’s also an opportunity to try and have a good start to the year.”
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