The 2023 K League 2 season is set to have an increased ASEAN presence after both Seoul E-Land and newcomers Chungbuk Cheongju managed to land ASEAN stars for the upcoming season. Vietnam’s Nguyen Van Toan, Vu Minh Hieu, and Nguyen Cahn Anh as well as Malaysia’s Kogileswaran Raj are set to join Indonesia’s Asnawi Mangkualam in the South Korean second tier this year, with the quartet becoming only the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth ASEAN player to play in the top two tier of South Korean football since the introduction of the ASEAN quota in the 2020 season.
Since K League 1 and K League 2 clubs were given the opportunity to sign ASEAN talent in 2020, only two players from the region had joined clubs in the two leagues – Indonesia’s Asnawi joining K League 2 side Ansan Greeners back in 2021 and Thailand’s Sasalak Haiprakhon joining K League 1 giants Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in a loan deal on the same year.
The 2023 season will see Asnawi – who was the radar of K League 1 side Jeju United before deciding to join Ansan’s K League 2 rivals Jeonnam Dragons this off-season – testing his wits against two more ASEAN talents in the K League 2.
Vietnam international Van Toan joins a Seoul E-Land side that finished 7th in the 2022 campaign. A graduate of the famed HAGL-Arsenal JMG Academy, Van Toan was part of the golden generation of Hoang Anh Gia Lai players in the mid 2010s, alongside the likes of Nguyen Cong Phuong, Luong Xuan Truong, and Nguyen Tuan Anh.
Throughout his seven years with HAGL, Van Toan made 177 league appearances and scored 46 league goals. He also won 50 senior caps for the Vietnam national team, scoring six as he won the 2018 AFF Championship with the Golden Dragons. Van Toan was also recognized as the top assist maker of the 2019 and 2020 V.League 1 seasons, while also scoring for HAGL in a 1-1 draw with Jeonbuk in the 2022 AFC Champions League.
At Seoul E-Land, Van Toan will play underneath the tutelage of Park Choong-kyun, who had previously took charge of Hanoi FC from 2021 to 2022 whilst also serving as Park Hang-seo’s assistant at the Vietnam national team. Having observed Van Toan from his days at Vietnam, it’s without a doubt that Choong-kyun had a hand in his transfer to Seoul E-Land.
Meanwhile, Malaysian attacker Kogileswaran was one of the standout performers for Petaling Jaya City during their brief tenure in the Liga Super Malaysia and following the Phoenixes’ decision to pull out from the league, an exodus of the club’s players was inevitable.
While his former teammates such as Darren Lok and Kalamullah Al-Hafiz had found their new port of calling within the Liga Super, Kogileswaran instead went abroad, signing a contract with K League 2 newcomers Chungbuk Cheongju.
Cheongju, who finished 14th in the South Korean third tier, were promoted to the K League 2 alongside third tier 10th placers Cheonan City after their applications to join the second tier were approved by the league. To strengthen themselves ahead of the 2023 season, Cheongju drafted in several new players such as Australian midfielder Peter Makrillos, former Suwon FC attacking midfielder Jang Hyuk-jin, and Kogileswaran himself, who was tied down to a one-year contract.
Kogileswaran cited Malaysia head coach Kim Pan-gon as one of the people who pushed him to play in South Korea, and he told the New Strait Times that he’s looking forward to improve his game there.
Throughout his 2-year stay at Petaling Jaya, Kogileswaran made 46 league appearances and scored eight league goals. He’s also a mainstay in the Malaysia national team setup, earning eight caps and scoring twice.
A few weeks after the signings of both Van Toan and Kogileswaran, Cheonan decided to join in the ASEAN party by bringing in youngsters Minh Hieu and Cahn Anh from HAGL, both of whom being signed on a year-long loan deal.
20-year old Minh Hieu is a striker that has been capped by the Vietnam U-23 national team despite only making a grand total of two appearances for HAGL last season, while Cahn Anh is a 23-year old defender who has been loaned out several times by HAGL to the likes of Binh Dinh FC, Dong Thap FC, Cong An Nhan Dan FC, and Hai Phong FC. It was hoped that both Minh Hieu and Cahn Anh, who were graduates of the HAGL academy, could hone their skills further in South Korea with Cheonan.
With Asnawi having proved himself to be quite a hit in the K League 2, it is hoped that the likes of Van Toan, Kogileswaran, Minh Hieu and Cahn Anh could establish themselves in the South Korean second tier, which in turn could elevate the profile of Southeast Asian players within not only South Korea itself, but also the East Asian region, which has been seen as one of the forerunners of the continent’s football.