VANCOUVER, B.C. – History is waiting to be made at BC Place on Saturday. The unbeaten Seattle Sounders make the short trip north take on a Vancouver Whitecaps side without a point (10pm ET | TSN1 in Canada, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US), but the fierce Cascadia rivalry is just one of the storylines that could be played out this weekend.
Among the many intriguing sub-plots is the potential first meeting of two Korean players in a Major League Soccer match, as Whitecaps midfielder Inbeom Hwang gets set to face Sounders center back Kim Kee-hee.
Hwang has been one of the standouts for Vancouver in the early part of this season, and the chance to go up against his Korean compatriot is an exciting prospect for the midfielder.
"This is the first-ever Korean derby match in MLS so there will be a lot of Korean fans interested in the game," Hwang told MLSsoccer.com through a translator this week. "I’ve never played on the same team as Kee-hee Kim but we did play against each other in my first K-League season when Kee-hee played with Jeonbuk Hyundai FC.
"I know he has strong defensive and physical ability. He has a lot of strengths in his game. Seattle has won their first three games and he is a big part of Seattle’s defense, so I am really looking forward to meeting and playing against him."
Both Hwang and Kim have been everpresent so far this season for their respective teams, playing every minute of their teams' three matches. While Kim arrived in Seattle last season, and has already had a taste of the Cascadia rivalries, this weekend will be Hwang’s first experience of the derby atmosphere in MLS and he can’t wait to be a part of it.
"I haven’t experienced the derby yet so I’m not sure what to expect," Hwang said. "However, I’ve heard and seen a lot about the rivalry. I haven’t had a lot of experience with big derby games at the club level. The biggest rivalry game I’ve experienced was the final of the Asian Games against Japan. It was not only a rivalry match, it was win everything or lose everything.
"If I get the chance to get on the field, whether it is 5, 10, 30, or 90 minutes, I will give my all to win the game for the fans."
A much sought-after prospect, many wondered how Hwang would adapt to playing outside of Korea for the first time, especially in a more physical league like MLS. But it's felt like a smooth transition, with Hwang one of the shining lights from Vancouver's first three matches.
"K-League has a higher press up the field but MLS is definitely more physical and stronger," Hwang revealed. "For example, in K-League when I received the ball, there is pressure right away. In MLS, I think there is a little more time on the ball but when the defender arrives it is a lot more physical. In MLS, there are a lot of individual talents, especially on the attacking side."
But despite earning plaudits for his early performances, Hwang is still his own harshest critic, both pleased and frustrated at how things have gone so far, but confident that Vancouver will quickly turn their fortunes around.
"We have failed to earn points so it is hard to say it’s been great," Hwang admitted. "At the same time, it’s my first time playing overseas. Considering everything, I think I’ve done well adjusting to the team and league, in large part thanks to the help and support of the whole team, coaching staff, and support staff.
"It’s just the start of the season. I know there are a lot more games to go and I am confident in our group and the quality we have in the locker room."