Versatile Inbeom Hwang makes strong first impression for Whitecaps

Hwang In-beom - Vancouver Whitecaps - playing for South Korea vs. Panama

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Of the many signings new Vancouver head coach Marc Dos Santos has made as he builds his Vancouver Whitecaps squad ahead of the 2019 MLS season, perhaps the most intriguing one is South Korean midfielder Inbeom Hwang.

The Whitecaps beat out interest from German clubs to secure Hwang's signature, and the highly touted midfielder looks set to be an important cog in the 'Caps offensive machine for the upcoming season.

With Vancouver set to play a 4-3-3 formation this season, Dos Santos sees Hwang as capable of playing in any three of the midfield positions, and the player was already on his radar even before his appointment as the new 'Caps coach in November.

"I first heard of Inbeom when I was kind of in transition between LAFC and here," Dos Santos told reporters. "As soon as I agreed with Vancouver, one of the first players that I spoke about was Inbeom, just because of the quality he has as a player, the technical ability, and the decision-making he has on the field fitting the way of how I see the game being played."

Outside of international appearances for his country, Hwang has played all of his club football in Korea, and the 22-year-old admits there are a few butterflies floating around with his move to a new footballing environment, city, and culture. He knows adjusting to life both on and off the pitch will take time, admitting that every aspect of it is "not going to be easy" or necessarily a quick transition.

“It [would be] strange if I was not nervous," Hwang told reporters through a translator at an introductory press conference on Tuesday. "With the coach and team being so nice, it's been a lot easier than expected. 

"The culture and the language will be challenging. I'm studying English harder than putting the effort into soccer! But I'm sure in two to three months, I'm going to be totally fine in adjusting to the team and being 100 percent."

Hwang only flew in to meet his new teammates at their training camp in Los Angeles on February 16 and saw 28 minutes of action in the Whitecaps last preseason match against LAFC on Saturday night.

Not a lot of time to get chemistry going for the new season, but from the early glimpses he had, his new coach has been impressed.

"What I've seen from him, is what I've seen from the games that I've watched and what I've seen in the national team," Dos Santos told the AFTN Soccer Show this past weekend. "It just confirms the type of player he is. He's very gifted technically. 

"He finds spaces. He finds passes that very few midfielders in MLS are going to find. He's very different when it comes to his dynamics. His first touch, his last pass. Vancouver has to be very, very proud that we got a player like Inbeom."

There is a likelihood that Hwang will feature at some point in Vancouver's season opener against Minnesota United on Saturday (6 pm ET | TSN 1/4, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US). He's keen to get the new chapter of his career started and has been impressed with the passion for the game in the city, along with the Whitecaps training facilities and overall professionalism.

"I've been surprised by how nice the city is, and how the soccer culture is here in Vancouver," Hwang said. "In Korea, the training facilities are not as good as here, but are almost as good. What I'm surprised about is the scale of this club and how all the staff manage all the little things. I expected a lot, but those good things that I've seen makes me expect more and more."