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Young midfielder wins MVP in top pro football league

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors midfielder Lee Jae-sung was voted the MVP of the top South Korean professional football league Monday.

The 25-year-old garnered 69 out of 133 votes to claim the top individual award in the first-division K League Classic, beating out Suwon Samsung Bluewings striker Johnathan Aparecido da Silva by 20 votes. Gangwon FC attacker Lee Keun-ho finished third with 15 votes.

Lee was pivotal in Jeonbuk winning their fifth league title. He scored eight goals and provided 10 assists in 28 matches for Jeonbuk.

This is the first time since 2007 that a midfielder has claimed the top honor.

It's also Lee's first MVP honor since he made his pro debut in 2014. He previously won the Young Player award -- which is presented to the top South Korean-born player aged 23 or younger with under three years of professional experience -- in 2015.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors midfielder Lee Jae-sung speaks during the 2017 K League Awards at a Seoul hotel on Nov. 20, 2017. (Yonhap)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors midfielder Lee Jae-sung speaks during the 2017 K League Awards at a Seoul hotel on Nov. 20, 2017. (Yonhap)

"I was able to grow because of Jeonbuk and head coach Choi Kang-hee," Lee said after winning the MVP award. "I'm really a happy player. I will keep working hard to become a player who can develop South Korean football."

Johnathan, as he is commonly known, was the league's top scorer after netting 22 goals in 29 matches. The 27-year-old Brazilian was looking to become the first player to win the MVP honor in both the first and second divisions.

Johnathan previously claimed the MVP award and scoring title in 2015, when he was with Daegu FC in the second-tier K League Challenge.

Lee Keun-ho scored eight goals and collected nine assists in 37 matches to lead newly promoted Gangwon to enter the upper group, or Group A.

The Classic operates the split system, in which 12 teams are divided into two group after their first 33 matches. They then play an additional five matches within their groups, with those in Group A continuing their race for the championship, while teams in Group B compete to avoid relegation to the Challenge.

The Coach of the Year honor went to Jeonbuk head coach Choi Kang-hee.

Choi, who won his fifth coaching accolade, earned 84 votes, while Jo Sung-hwan of Jeju United had 44 and Kim Do-hoon of Ulsan Hyundai FC had five.

For the Young Player award, Jeonbuk defender Kim Min-jae was the winner after collecting 120 out of 133 votes. He beat Ulsan midfielder Lee Yeong-jae and Seoul defender Hwang Hyun-soo.

Kim, 21, scored two goals in 29 matches in his K League debut season and led Jeonbuk's defense that conceded a league-low 35 goals this season.

The league also announced the All-K League Classic squad of 11 players, made up of two forwards, four midfielders, four defenders and a goalkeeper.

Jonathan and Lee Keun-ho, the two MVP candidates, were picked as the two best forwards. The midfielder corps featured MVP Lee Jae-sung and his Jeonbuk teammate Lee Seung-ki, along with Suwon captain Yeom Ki-hun and Jeju's Lee Chang-min.

Three Jeonbuk players were on defense, with right back Choi Chul-soon, left back Kim Jin-soo and center back Kim Min-jae making their names on the list. They were joined by Jeju center back Oh Ban-suk.

Daegu FC's Jo Hyeon-woo was named the top goalkeeper. He conceded 48 goals in 35 matches.

Meanwhile, for the K League Challenge, Gyeongnam FC's Brazilian striker Marcos Vinicius Amaral, better known as Marcao, won the MVP award, as well as the scoring title. He netted 22 goals in 32 matches and led Gyeongnam to earn a promotion to the Classic as the Challenge champions.

Gyeongnam boss Kim Jong-boo won the coaching award. (Yonhap)