Foreign strikers are dominating the scoring title race for the top South Korean football league this season as locals eye to defend the crown once again.
Since 2000, non-Korean players won the scoring title of the first division K League Classic 10 times. South Koreans, however, regained supremacy in recent years after Ulsan Hyundai's Kim Shin-wook, who is now with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, claimed the title with 18 goals in 2015, followed by Gwangju FC's Jung Jo-gook, who is now with Gangwon FC, with 20 goals last year.
In 2015, 12 of the top 20 scorers in the league were South Koreans, and last year half of the top 20 goal poachers were locals. There are still 15 matches left to play this season, but only six local attackers are in the top 20 in scoring.
Only two Koreans -- Pohang Steelers' Yang Dong-hyeon and Jeonbuk's Kim Shin-wook -- are inside the top 10. Yang is currently third with 14 goals in 22 matches, while Kim is No. 5 with nine goals in 23 matches.
Between the two, Yang, 31, will be the realistic candidate to challenge Suwon Samsung Bluewings' Johnathan, who leads all players with 18 goals in 20 matches.
Johnathan has been in hot form with superb finishing touches around the net. On Sunday, Johnathan grabbed a brace to lead his team's 3-0 victory over Sangju Sangmu and became first player to score two goals or more in four straight matches. Including a hat trick, he has bagged nine goals in his last four matches.
Thanks to the 27-year-old Brazilian, who was the MVP and top scorer in the second-tier K League Challenge in 2015 with Daegu FC, Suwon are currently No. 2 behind Jeonbuk in league standings.
|In this file photo, taken on July 19, 2017, Suwon Samsung Bluewings' striker Johnathan celebrates after scoring a goal against the Jeonnam Dragons during the K League Classic match at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)|
Damjanovic won the Golden Boot honor for three straight seasons from 2011-13 and has scored 10 goals or more for nine straight seasons in South Korea. Last year, he was No. 6 with 13 goals in 36 matches.
Jeonnam Dragons' Jair is No. 4 with 13 goals in 20 matches. Last season, the 29-year-old Brazilian had 10 goals in 20 matches with Jeonnam and helped the club reach the upper group in the league's split system.
The top three foreign attackers have skillful teammates who feed them brilliant passes, and those three are likely to score more goals after the K League All-Star break this week.
Johnathan has Yeom Ki-hun, the K League's all-time leader in assists who is currently third in helpers with seven. Damjanovic is helped by Yun Il-lok, who leads the league in assists with eight this season, while Jair is getting the ball from Kim Young-wook, who has seven assists.
Football fans may be sad to see some veteran South Korean strikers out of the race this year.
Jung, the reigning scoring champion, suffered injuries early this season and has scored only three goals in nine matches. Lee Dong-gook, the league's all-time leading scorer playing for Jeonbuk, has only four goals in 16 matches.
Among veterans, Seoul's Park Chu-young is on his way to marking double digits in scoring. The former Arsenal and AS Monaco man has seven goals in 22 matches this season, sitting 12th in scoring rankings. (Yonhap)