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Kim Young-kwon, 33, the defender who led Ulsan Hyundai to back-to-back titles in professional soccer, has been named K League 1’s top star of the 2023 season.

Kim Young-kwon won the MVP award, which is given to the player with the best performance in a season, at the 2023 Hana OneQ K League Grand Award Ceremony held on Thursday at Lotte Hotel World in Songpa-gu, Seoul. Based on a weighted combination of head coach, captain, and media votes, Kim earned 44.13 points (six head coach votes, four captain votes, and 55 media votes) to take home MVP honors, ahead of Zeca (41.76 points, four head coach votes, seven captain votes, and 41 media votes), who led the Pohang Steelers to a runner-up finish and a spot in the early round of 16 in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League. It is only the fifth time in the history of professional soccer that a defender has won the MVP award.

Kim began his professional career in the J-League in 2010 and is a defender who has played in three World Cups (2014-2018-2022) and is a member of the A-Match Century Club (100 games). He made his debut in the K League last season and became the key to Ulsan’s title drought, winning the MVP award for the second consecutive season.

With a steady defense led by Kim Young-kwon, Ulsan never relinquished the lead throughout the season and ran a dominant race to clinch the title with three games left in the league.

“I want to thank my parents for making a soccer player named Kim Young-kwon,” he said on stage. He also said, “There were times this year when I was not playing well. When the coach told me, ‘How can you play well every day, what if you don’t play well for one or two games,’ it broke my heart. That’s when I was convinced that we could win the championship.” He also remembered coach Hong Myung-bo.

The K League Grand Award ceremony was a feast for Ulsan. Hong Myung-bo, who won the MVP as a Pohang defender in 1992, won his second consecutive coach’s award as Ulsan’s head coach. He is only the fifth coach in history to win back-to-back awards (six times).

It was expected to be a close race with Pohang’s Kim Ki-dong, who chased Ulsan, and Gwangju FC’s Lee Jung-hyo, who led the club’s surge, but Hong’s 45.02 points in converted points gave him a significant lead over second-place Lee Jung-hyo (25.52 points).

Ulsan also had the most players in the top 11 with five: forward Lee In-jong-gyu, midfielder Uhm Won-sang, defenders Kim Young-kwon and Seol Young-woo, and goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo. Pohang followed with four players in the Best 11, including defenders Wandelsson and Grant, midfielder Oberdan, and forward Zeca.

The Young Player of the Year award went to Gwangju’s Jung Ho-yeon. He was voted the best young player in the K League 1 for the 2023 season, with two votes from coaches, six from captains, and 43 from media. A former Gwangju youth player, Jung broke into the starting lineup on his debut last season and helped Gwangju win the K League 2 title, and continued his strong play this season with two goals and four assists in the promotion to K League 1.

Meanwhile, in the K-League 2, head coach Choi Jeong-woon won the Coach of the Year award after guiding Gimpo FC to a third-place finish in the regular season while conceding the fewest goals (26). This is the first time a coach of a third-place team has won the award in K-League 2.

The K League 2 MVP award went to Jeonnam Dragons’ Valdivia, who tied for fourth in K League 2 history for most offensive points (14 goals, 14 assists). Valdivia was involved in more than half of Jeonnam’s goals (55) this season. Valdivia won three awards in K League 2: Assist, Best 11, and MVP.

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