Although the season is still in its infancy, it already looks like Taiwan Steel may be struggling to live up to pre-season expectations.
The Tainan side have struggled for consistency in their first four games, having won twice and lost twice, with one of those wins a scraped 3-2 home victory over Red Lions FC, who have lost 4-0, 4-0, and 1-6 in their other games so far.
What could be behind the team’s struggle?
A lack of organisation?
Over the winter offseason, Taiwan Steel signed a number of new players, including last season’s topscorers Benchy Estama and Marc Fenelus, Russian defender Alim Zumakulov and Taiwan’s starting goalkeeper Wen-Chieh Pan.
With so many new players going into the starting lineup, it is perhaps to be expected that the team does not look settled yet. Taiwan Steel have scored a decent number of goals, but in all four games so far they will feel like they could have scored more, with promising positions often being squandered.
However, worryingly for Steel, some players on the team feel that the lack of cohesion is being exacerbated by the current coaching setup.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one Taiwan Steel player told Taiwan Football News that the coaching is poor and coaching staff “only want to throw the ball [and do] not want to play soccer.” The player was also critical of management generally, stating that those leading the club “don’t know football.”
Whilst it’s not known how discontented the squad is in general, it is understood that there is is a shared sense of frustration, which could be affecting the team’s performances.
In defence of head coach Lo Chi-Chong, Taiwan Steel have attempted to play some good football. With technically gifted players such as Fenelus, Benchy and Mati Godoy, this should yield results.
However, the team’s efforts are often hampered by the state of their home field. With Steel’s usual home stadium not available due to unconfirmed reasons (but assumed to be due to Covid-19 restrictions), their nominal home ground is not exactly a surface to foster high-quality football.
Although the CTFA has confirmed that there have not been any official complaints about the state of the pitch, a number of players have spoken negatively about the quality of the field.
Described by a Red Lions player as “the worst pitch in Taiwan,” a Taichung Futuro player as “very bad” and “a little dangerous,” another Futuro player as “too bad” and “too difficult to play beautiful football [on],” and by a Taiwan Steel player as a “poor field,” it’s safe to say that Steel’s current home venue is fairly unpopular and may be hampering their efforts to play with cohesion.
Although it is hard to look beyond a combination of a new squad not connecting with their manager, whilst having their home advantage partly nullified, there could be a few other things causing Steel’s problems.
As the presumed new power in Taiwanese football, Steel were always going to have a target on their back for other teams, who have appeared to have raised their game against them. Red Lions’ performance against them was by far their best of the season and it would have been a more comfortable win for Steel but for an absolute clanger by Steel’s Taiwan international goalkeeper Pan.
The team may also be feeling fatigued by their training arrangements. Despite playing home games in Tainan, the team train during the week in New Taipei City. Although Taiwan is by no means enormous, it is surely reasonable to assume that the travel is having an impact on some level.
What does the future hold?
Although we are only four games into the season, in a 21 game season that represents almost a fifth of the season gone. Steel are already six points behind trailblazing Taipower, who are yet to drop a point. If Taipower continue to dominate, Steel will have to make an instant improvement to have any chance of reeling them in.
Fortunately for Steel, this weekend could represent an opportunity to begin to do just that.
Steel host NTUS, who have just a single point so far this season. This could be a chance to regain some confidence and prove that they are at least equal to the sum of their parts.
Taipower, meanwhile, face a tricky away game against Taichung Futuro, who are also undefeated with two wins and two draws to their name, including a 1-0 away win over Steel last weekend.
Elsewhere, defending champions Tatung will go into their game with second-place Hang Yuan FC confident of a win after a comfortable 5-1 win over NTUS last weekend, while MCU and Red Lions will try to edge away from the foot of the table when they meet.