Minnesota United FC, with Wednesday’s formal announcement, tapped into a corner of the global transfer market that Major League Soccer clubs seldom explore: South Korea.
The Loons’ latest forward, Sang Bin Jeong, is just the sixth-ever MLS player from the Asian nation. And with that comes an immense source of pride for the U22 Initiative signing who’s joined from English Premier League club Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“As a Korean, I feel a big responsibility,” Jeong, 20, said through a translator at his introductory press conference. “I have to perform, which is something that’s very important. As I perform, it’s a way to open the door for other Koreans so they can start coming more into this league.”
Before Jeong, MLS’s most recent South Koreans were former Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder Hwang In-beom and former LAFC fullback Kim Moon-hwan. Both players were consistent starters during the country’s Round of 16 trip at the FIFA 2022 World Cup.
One day, Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath is confident Jeong can reach similar heights.
“I think that over the next few years – obviously he’s still 20, still very young – we hope we can help him develop into the player that the people of Korea think he’s going to become, because he’s incredibly highly thought of down there,” said Heath.
“He’s played for all the youth national teams coming through. The next phase is now, after the Asian Games coming on later in the year, is the national team. I have no doubt that he will go on and play for Korea.”
Jeong is Minnesota’s second-ever U22 Initiative outlay after they signed South Korean forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane before the 2022 season. MNUFC technical director Mark Watson said they could utilize the club’s third U22 slot before the MLS Primary Transfer Window closes on April 24, but that “depends on the balance of the team.”
In the meantime, Minnesota have an attacker they’ve long sought after and believe in.
“This has been going on since 2019, that’s the first time we saw him play,” said Heath. “So this is not something over the last few weeks suddenly we’ve thought, ‘Oh this kid’s good, let’s go and sign him.’ This has been ongoing, but he has all the attributes for a modern-day forward. Quick, really good first touch, wants to run in behind.”
Added Watson: “He was on the top of our list a couple of years ago. In the end, he went to Wolves. We knew he was a good player and we weren’t just competing against ourselves. … We thought that opportunity had come and gone, and we spent a lot of time this offseason looking at different players. Fortunately enough for us, he couldn’t get a work permit with Wolves and then essentially came back to us.”
Before signing for Minnesota, Jeong played on loan at Swiss Super League side Grasshoppers. He also debuted as a professional at South Korean side Suwon Samsung Bluewings, where he was teammates with Minnesota center back Doneil Henry.
Now, it’s a matter of Jeong’s paperwork getting approved in the weeks ahead. Once he can debut – Watson gave the impression that early-to-mid April is realistic – Jeong is undoubtedly confident.
“Personally, my goal is to get 20 points – so 10 goals and 10 assists – into the team,” Jeong said. “That’s my personal goal, and to help the team out so we can be in the best table position as [possible].”
Heath, joking he expects “25 goals” as a reference to Luis Amarilla’s memorable first press conference in Minnesota colors, said Jeong will play “in and around the striker.” As the club develops a young attacking core with Jeong, Hlongwane and Colombian striker Mender García, promising pieces are for the choosing.
“I have no qualms, no doubts that he’ll hit the ground running,” Heath said of Jeong. “We did a little work this morning and he’s looked really fit and quick. I don’t see him having any trouble fitting in, so no pressure there.”