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2023 K League 2 Season Recap

league 2023.12.12   I   hits 481

Gimcheon Sangmu are the 2023 K League 2 champions, winning the title on the final day. It was heartbreak for Busan IPark and Gimpo FC in the playoffs meaning that, for the fifth time in 11 seasons of promotion and relegation, only one team has won promotion.

The 2023 season was the second of K League's new promotion system where up to three times can earn a place in the top division. In the first, only one of the two teams involved in the playoffs won promotion, that being Daejeon Hana Citizen. In the second, both Busan IPark and Gimpo FC fell short.

1. Gimcheon Sangmu (C, P)

Gimcheon Sangmu won the K League 2 title on the final day of the season, overtaking Busan IPark thanks to a win over Seoul E-Land coupled with Busan drawing at home to Chungbuk Cheongju. It marks an instant return to the top flight for the army side who suffered relegation via the playoffs in 2022. In the end, Gimcheon won the league by one point but won 22 of their 36 games - two more than Busan - and drew just five. A total of 71 goals scored was by far the most in the division, too. Impressively, when Gimcheon took the lead in 2023 they went on to win the game. From 24 games in which the army side scored first they won 22 and drew two. The 2023 championship was Gimcheon's second in three seasons and the army team's fourth overall. Three Gimcheon players were named in the Best XI, Lee Sang-min, Kim Jin-kyu, and Won Du-jae. 

2. Busan IPark

A truly heartbreaking season for Busan IPark who, after missing out on automatic promotion on the final day, suffered a second-leg playoff loss to lose the promotion-relegation playoff to Suwon FC. Busan actually won the first leg with Bruno Lamas tucking away two late penalties to earn a 2-1 comeback win but Suwon FC roared back to a 5-2 second-leg win. Busan actually led the league the most in 2023, 11 times in total, and went top of the league in Round 16 and were still top heading into the last day of the season. Three Busan players were named in the season's Best XI, goalkeeper Koo Sang-min and defensive duo Lee Han-do and Choi Jun.

3. Gimpo FC

In just their second season in K League, Gimpo FC finished third to reach the Promotion-Relegation Playoff 2 Final. After a 0-0 draw at home to Gangwon in the first leg, Gimpo had it all to do in the second and had a mountain to climb when Vitor Gabriel gave Gangwon the lead. Cho Sung-kwon levelled to give Gimpo a ray of hope but a red card to Luis Mina and as second from Gabriel meant it was Gangwon's day and another season in K League 1 for Gimpo. Gimpo conceded just 25 goals in the regular season, four fewer than Busan as the next best, and enjoyed an impressive start to the campaign, going on a 12-match unbeaten run. Ko Jeong-woon's side also led the league on six separate occasions to rank fourth in that regard. Luis Mina won the Top Goalscorer Award with 16 regular season goals and was named in the K League 2 Best XI for the season.

4. Gyeongnam FC 

A fourth-place finish meant it was the playoffs for the second year in a row for Gyeongnam FC and third in four years since relegation from K League 1. Gyeongnam finished behind the top two Gimcheon and Busan for the number of occasions they sat top of the table with seven. Gleyson led the team's goal-scoring charts with 13, followed by Won Ki-jong with 11, and Mo Jae-hyeon and Guilherme Castro both on six. Mo was named in the K League 2 Best XI. The 2023 season was the last under manager Seol Ki-hyeon who has since departed the club; Park Dong-hyuk has taken over at Changwon Football Center ahead of 2024. 

5. Bucheon FC 1995

It was another season in the playoffs for Bucheon FC 1995, qualifying for the K League post-season for the second year in a row and for the fourth time in their history. In the end, the season came to a close for Lee Young-min's men with a playoff semifinal loss to Gyeongnam FC - just like it did in 2022. But the Hermes finished just three points behind Gimpo in third and showed great resilience to seal a playoff spot on the final day. Bucheon were one of just seven teams to have sat top of the table in 2023, doing so in Round 4. An Jae-jun ended the season as the team's top scorer with 11 goals and four assists. An was named Young Player of the Year.

[READ: 2023 K League Award Winners]

6. FC Anyang

FC Anyang have become synonymous with the K League 2 playoffs but just missed out this season. The Violets finished sixth and, despite a last-day win over Cheonan City, finished three points off the top five. Anyang actually sat top of the table at various points this season, four in total. The earliest was in Round 6 and the most recent in Round 18. Departures of some key foreign talent had an impact on Anyang's campaign. Yago César finished the season as top scorer with six and six assists, followed by full back Kim Dong-jin with five and three, and was also named in the K League 2 Best XI.

7. Jeonnam Dragons

Jeonnam Dragons very nearly made it into the playoffs this season, finishing seventh and four points off the top five. The 3-0 win over Busan in the penultimate round of the season meant it was in their hands on the final day. But the 2023 campaign will be most remembered for the dazzling displays of Brazilian star Valdivia was named as the K League 2 MVP and was, naturally, named in the Best XI. Valdivia scored 14 goals and assisted 14. Leonard Pllana made telling contributions too with eight goals and seven assists. 

8. Chungbuk Cheongju

It turned out to be a very productive first season for K League newcomers Chungbuk Cheongju. The Lions still had a mathematical chance of reaching the playoffs heading into the final rounds of the season but, instead, just like Gimpo in 2022, finished the season in eighth place. Brazilian striker Jorge Luiz was named in the Best XI after bagging 13 goals, while Australian midfielder Peter Makrillos was second with seven as the team's two top scorers.

9. Seongnam FC

A tough first season back in K League 2 for Seongnam FC with the Magpies finishing ninth. It was with Seongnam this season when legendary goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang made his 600th career K League appearance, doing so in the Round 35 win over Chungnam Asan. Kim was able to keep a cleansheet to mark the occasion. At the other end of the field, Lee Jong-ho was the Magpies' top scorer with seven goals, followed by Christy Manzinga with six

10. Chungnam Asan

Chungnam Asan ended the season in 10th place with 12 wins, six draws, and 18 defeats. The club's scoring charts were jointly led by Kang Min-goo and Park Dae-hoon who both scored six. For Park, it was something of a comeback year as six goals is a career-best - he also managed three assists to make nine goal contributions, the most in the team.

11. Seoul E-Land

A run of six straight losses to end the campaign meant that Seoul E-Land were unable to finish any higher than 11th place. The Leopards, though, did manage to stay clear of the two teams fighting it out to avoid finishing bottom of the table and receiving the so-called 'wooden spoon,' ending the campaign 10 points clear of Ansan Greeners and Cheonan City. Seoul managed to hit double-figure victories with 10 and drew just five games, the joint fewest.

12. Ansan Greeners

The 2023 season won't be one that Ansan Greeners fans will look back on too fondly. The Green Wolves won six games, drew seven, and lost 23 which is actually more than Cheonan who finished bottom. Three of those wins came at home and after one win in March and April, the Wa~ had to wait until the end of July to see another. But, looking at the glass half-full, Ansan were at least able to avoid finishing bottom of the table thanks to their superior goals scored tally to Cheonan (40-33). The team's top scorer was Yun Ju-tae with nine.

13. Cheonan City

The only way is up for Cheonan City who ended their first season in K League bottom of the table. Cheonan won five matches in 2023, drawing 10, and losing 21. Park Nam-yeol's side recorded their first point of the season in Round 17, earning a 1-1 draw away to Bucheon thanks to a late Yoon Yong-ho equaliser. Their first win came five rounds later - a 3-2 home victory over Seongnam FC thanks to goals from Paulo (2) and Bruno Mota. Cheonan's best run of the season was between rounds 27 and 36, losing just once in nine matches with four wins - including three on the spin - and four draws. The same run included six matches without defeat. Bruno Mota ended the season as the club's top scorer, bagging a very respectable 10 goals.