Gangwon FC is smiling at the arrival of ‘newcomer’ Lee Seung-won (20). For Gangwon, which made a fortune in discovering Yang Hyun-jun, 21, who won the K League 1 Young Player of the Year award last year, the arrival of Lee Seung-won, who sparkles at the same age as Yang (20), is a welcome sight. Lee was at the center of Gangwon’s upset victory over powerhouse France in their FIFA U-20 World Cup Group F opener on Wednesday. Wearing the captain’s armband, Lee had one goal and one assist.
Lee’s surprise appearance wasn’t a fluke – he was “ready to go. Born in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do, and spending his elementary, middle, and high school years there, Lee was well on his way to elite status. Influenced by his father, a fellow soccer enthusiast, Lee loved to play with the ball from a young age, according to Gangwon, and began to pursue his dream of playing in earnest in the fourth grade. In August 2021, when he was in the third grade at Deokyoung High School (Yongin Football Center U-18), he won the best player award at the 43rd Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism National High School Games. He is 1.74 meters tall, neither a superior physical player nor a flashy style, but his efficiency is the best and he was always praised as an Altoran-like player. Experts say he’s very active, has good midfield passing, and plays with a lot of commitment.
At a young age, he had a lot to deal with. After being recognized as the MVP of the national tournament, he received a direct offer from a professional team. However, in October of that year, while competing in the national championships, he fractured his toe and was sidelined for more than four weeks. He rehabilitated successfully, but his pro career didn’t take off, and he decided to go to college (Dankook University) for his next chance.
“Dreams wait for those who don’t give up,” he said. Injuries slowed him down, but his natural skills and grit didn’t. From his freshman year in college, he played as a starting midfielder and rose to prominence.
He caught the eye of Kim Eun-joong, the head coach of the U-20 national team. Kim, who had been in charge of the U-19 national team, called up Lee early last year. In June, he captained the U-19 team in a four-nation friendly tournament in Lisbon, Portugal. Since then, Lee has become Kim’s go-to “captain” for the U-20 team as well.
It was Gangwon FC that paved the way for Lee’s dream of playing professionally while he was growing up in the national team. Gangwon signed Lee this year after he completed his first year of college. Like Yang Hyun-joon, he was given a steady start in the K4 League, where Gangwon’s B team competes.
He has yet to make his debut in the K League 1, but he has one assist in three games in the K4 League. Gangwon head coach Choi Yong-soo, who propelled Yang Hyun-joon to stardom last year, has been using Lee as a substitute on April 23 against Gwangju and 스포츠토토 on April 25 against FC Seoul in the FA Cup.
Coincidentally, Lee’s first offensive point in the K4 League came on his debut against Goyang Happiness (April 2), and he had a goal and an assist in the first match of the U-20 World Cup. For Gangwon, who are winless in four league games (1-3) and suffering from a lack of rotation resources, Lee’s emergence is good news as they look to rebound in the second half of the season.
In an interview after the win over France, Lee said, “I will only enjoy the joy of victory until today. We will prepare well for the remaining matches against Honduras and Gambia in our colors and show a good performance.” To the Gangwon fans, he said, “The U-20 World Cup is a big stage that only comes once in a lifetime, so I will return home with a good experience and become a valuable player for the team.”