Friday, February 13, 2015

Division 1 Preview

Division 1 this season has expanded to 20 clubs from 18. With three going up and six going down, this season should prove to be vastly exciting in the second tier. Here is a brief look at the runners and riders:

Recently Relegated
The duo that jump out at you immediately are Police United and PTT Rayong. These big spenders were demoted last year from the TPL despite possessing some impressive financial muscle. Police have kept many of the (let’s be honest) highly paid flops that got them into this mess. They’ve also managed to persuade Sho Shimoji to jump ship from BEC Tero which suggests mouth-watering wages are still playing a big factor in their promotion push. The problem for me last season with Police was their hiring and firing of head coaches. Attaphol Buspakom is the man currently in charge and whether he has the ability to motivate his superstars back in the top flight remains to be seen.
In my opinion, PTT Rayong seem a better bet of making an instant return. Their form in the second half of last season wasn’t too bad and it was their shabby start which landed them in this predicament. Amadou Ouattara and Yves Desmarets are good enough for the TPL, but they’ve decided to stay put, as are the recently recruited Korean pair of Lee Sang Ho and Kim Geun Chul from Singh Tarua. PTT also managed to pinch Aron da Silva from under the noses of the aforementioned Bangkok club, with higher wages luring the Brazilian to Map Kha.
Air Force and Songkla United have also kept some of their better players from last season. I can see both of them being in the promotion hunt, but making a swift return could be a big ask. Kouassi Yao Herman is guaranteed to get Air Force goals while Songkhla have taken a punt on the goalscoring front with Sanchez and Suarez. Unfortunately for the Fighting Bulls, it’s Sergio and Rufo as opposed to Alexis and Luis.
All that remains with the club that we traditional acknowledge as Samut Songkram is their title. Their home ground has still not been brought up to standard and a season at a bland university stadium in the western metropolis of Bangkok looms. On the playing front, Mark Babo Landry returns after successful loan spells at Chiang Mai and Ang Thong last year. His goals will be vital in preventing this club from making unwanted back-to-back demotions.

Promoted Quartet
Last season two of the promoted sides fell by the wayside and slipped instantly back into the regional leagues. With six relegation berths this year, I can see another 50% casualty rate coming from this set of new boys.
After flirtation with the Division 2 playoffs in recent years, the northern duo of Sukhothai and Phichit finally navigated their way into the first division. Prachuap’s route was via the southern section after a few years of anonymity in the Central region while Thai Honda did it through good old fashioned financial clout.
Thai Honda return to the second tier after three seasons out. Once upon a time, they were a TPL side but Honda were regularly only watched by one man and his dog. Last season attendances mushroomed with their Lat Krabang stadium full to the brim during the play-offs. They’ve got aging, experienced, foreign players with one of them being Ivan Petrovic. He’ll be hoping to complete a hat-trick of promotions from the first division. He previously achieved this with Singh Tarua and Nakhon Ratchasima. Honda have also kept hold of the Regional League’s 2014 player of the year, Rodoljub Paunovic.
The coach of Petrovic’s promoted Singh Tarua side in 2013 was Dusit Chalermsan. He has subsequently made the switch to Prachuap. Taking the Killer Bees to promotion would be a tall order and staying up would constitute success. He’s got experienced Munze Ulrich between the sticks and Erivaldo showed last season at Krabi that he can score goals at this level.
A few years ago, Phichit played second fiddle to TPL side TTM while they were residing in the town. Now they are on a level playing field. The King Crocodiles don’t have a big budget, but they are ambitious and will be hopeful of a mid-table finish.
Sukhothai won the Northern region ahead of Phichit last season and they’ve been working hard to add the necessary reinforcements. Recent purchase Felipe Ferreira knows his way around this division and experienced promotion with Navy last season. 

The Main Pack
Eleven sides try their luck again in 2015. The team that will be most unrecognizable from last season is Pattaya United. This season they will be the much loved younger sibling of Muang Thong United rather than the snot-faced cousin of Chonburi. As a consequence, the Blue Dolphins have acquired several fringe MTU players including Milan Bubalo and Ri Khwang Chon.
Bangkok FC have missed out on promotion on the final day for the last two seasons and it must be psychologically difficult to bounce back for a third attempt. From the outside, Chiang Mai have the credentials to be a TPL side, and despite releasing some of their top players they are still well equipped to challenge for the top six.
The remaining eight sides Ayutthaya, Trat, Ang Thong, BBCU, Krabi, Phuket, TTM, and Nakhon Pathom could realistically be involved at either end of the league table. Ayutthaya have bought a proven goalscorer at this level in Valci Junior but the biggest battle will be keeping the well-travelled striker fit and interested. The comings and goings at Trat don’t suggest anything better than last season and the same could be applied to Ang Thong.
Yusuke Kato showed with Korat in 2013 that he was too good for this level. He has joined BBCU along with Chonburi castoffs Andre Araujo and Yuki Bamba. The Pink Panthers are possibly a player or two away from a promotion push though. The southern pair of Krabi and Phuket could also be on the periphery of the promotion race, but most likely they’ll be somewhere in the middle. The Ronins have boosted their attacking threat with Brazilians Andrezinho and Ronir de Souza with Berlin Ndeme-Nlome also joining from Ayutthaya. Krabi have gone for experience with Ludovik Takem brought in as chief goal poacher while Kone Seydou will strengthen their back 4.
TTM’s partnership with the Customs Department hasn't halted their decline and they continue flounder in front of very few spectators. Meanwhile, Nakhon Pathom Utd have kept it in the family with Jason Withe taking over the coaching duties from his father, Peter. They’ll be hoping that new boy Kone Mohamed can stay injury free to bang them some goals while the same could be said of Matius Recio who’s joined TTM.

There are a few clubs playing their home fixtures at different venues this year:
  • Police United will play at the Bunyajinda Stadium in northern Bangkok. However, the stadium isn't ready yet to host football so they'll use the Leo Stadium for their first couple of home matches. 
  • Ayutthaya have moved in as tenants at Thammasart University. The floodlights at their Provincial Stadium in Ayutthaya still haven't been repaired after they were damaged by a storm last year. 
  • TTM were supposed to use the Bunyajinda too but they are apparently staying put at Lat Krabang 54.
  • The other Lat Krabang side Thai Honda, have moved to BEC Tero's 72nd Anniversary Stadium in Minburi. 
  • Samut Songkhram are now playing at Bangkok University in Thonburi. 

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