The rest of the world looked on as South Korea’s K League was the first major football competition to restart on May 8 after the outbreak of coronavirus and fans will be back in stadiums later this month. But for the Australians in Asia’s oldest professional league, it has not been the smoothest of returns.
Most headlines so far, both in Australia and Korea, have been focused on Adam Taggart.
The Suwon Bluewings striker was the top scorer of the league in 2019 with 20 goals, a fantastic return especially for a foreign striker in his first season, but this year has been a struggle for both club and player.
Taggart has scored just one goal this season and the four-time champions are 10th in the 12-team league.
“When Taggart is quiet, Suwon are quiet,” said one newspaper after Suwon’s latest defeat, a 1-0 home loss against the army team Sangju Sangmu on Sunday.
That really has put pressure on coach Lee Lim-saeng: “If you include the AFC Champions League then Taggart has scored just one goal in 11 games but it is not just about Taggart,” Lee, who has been criticised for his tactics and style of play all season, said. ”It is the responsibility of the entire team.”
Next for Suwon is the 'Supermatch’ on Saturday, Korea’s biggest game between Suwon and bitter rivals FC Seoul.
Seoul are also struggling and there is speculation that defeat could even hasten the end of the unpopular Lee.
Whatever happens, Suwon are resigned to losing their star striker, who was recently named as the player with the highest transfer value in the K League of around $2.5 million, either in the summer or at the end of the season to China, Japan or West Asia.
Ulsan Horangi are going much better -- and would have gone top last weekend had they not lost to Jeonbuk Motors -- but Jason Davidson has only made four appearances out of nine so far.
The defender has more competition for places now as Ulsan have just signed left-back Hong Chul from Suwon Bluewings.
Hong, who has played 30 times for his country, is one of the best full-backs in Korea and is expected to slot straight into the team.
“We are looking forward to seeing Hong Chul get forward to deliver his crosses to our strikers such as Junior Negao and Bjorn Johnsen,” Ulsan said.
The former Perth man faces a battle to get minutes on the pitch.
That is not currently an issue for Rashid Mahazi.
The former Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers midfielder has played full minutes in the last two games but the problem for Incheon United is that the team is in danger of getting cut off at the bottom.
The port city club are dead last and are yet to win this season - with just two points they're six behind Busan and Suwon.
Probably the happiest at the moment is Brandon O’Neill, also on the coast, all the way down in the southeast at Pohang Steelers.
A week ago, Sports Seoul newspaper noted that the midfielder has initially struggled with the fast tempo of the K League but is now settling nicely.
The three-time Asian champions currently sit in fifth and are well-placed to finish in the top three, especially with their Australian star starting to shine.