When thinking about Vancouver’s lineup for this upcoming season, Inbeom Hwang stands out as a key piece of the puzzle to Vancouver’s success, as he will likely be the one to occupy that central #8 role. The South Korean had a whirlwind of a first season with the Whitecaps. At just 22 years old, Inbeom ventured to North America.
For Inbeom, this move meant a new language to learn, a new cultural environment, new teammates, a new league, and longer travel schedules than he’d ever experienced. Coming to MLS with no prior offseason rest period, it was not always easy for Hwang last year.
Fans could tell Inbeom was a talented player, but there was a feeling that he didn’t blossom to his full potential last season. With 3 goals and 5 assists last season, even Inbeom feels like he still has more to offer for the Whitecaps. In a mini-documentary put out by the Whitecaps in September of 2019, Hwang said: “I haven’t shown my 100 percent here yet. Maybe not even 50 percent.”
We go into this season feeling that Inbeom has a point to prove in Vancouver. But what circumstances will be needed for Whitecaps fans to enjoy a full-functioning Inbeom?
The right positioning
An important part of Inbeom’s success this season will be dependent on the requirement that he occupies the right role for the Whitecaps. In my opinion, Inbeom functions best alongside two other players in the midfield.
Firstly, he needs to be alongside a gritty #6 who can make tackles. This was a role occupied by Jon Erice and Andy Rose for much of last season. In order to produce his magic going forward, Inbeom needs this defensive midfielder to cover the bulk of the defensive work in the midfield.
Secondly, he needs to be playing beside an effective #10. Based on how Inbeom played last season, the Whitecaps are in need of a true #10. Last season, Inbeom often occupied that #10 role, but it doesn’t seem to suit him as well as the #8 role did.
This #10 role will need to be someone who is able to have creativity going forward, is able to take risks in the final third, and is the playmaker for all the attacks with through balls beyond the backline (think ex-Whitecap Pedro Morales). Inbeom functions best as the link player between the #6 and the #10, whose main function in possession is to distribute the ball forward to the attacking midfielder or the wide players, and not so much make that decisive pass forward.
More risk-taking and confidence
Inbeom was often accused of being too conservative in his play last season. Statistically, we saw Inbeom consistently rank among the top players on the team in terms of passing accuracy last year, but as he often played the attacking number 10 role, these impressive passing accuracy statistics also mean that he played too many easy short passes, instead of decisive passes which break lines.
As alluded to earlier, if the Whitecaps can land a true number 10, this will not be as crucial to Inbeom’s game. Even so, I would still like to see him make more forward-looking passes, and take more shots, which is another aspect of his game that we haven’t seen reach its full potential quite yet.
Given that Inbeom will enter this season with an MLS season already under his belt, it’s almost certain that he will have more confidence in his play this year. Hopefully, this confidence will mean more dribbles on the ball, more shots on goal, and more decisive passes. I predict that Hwang will look much more confident in the Whitecaps kit this year, and this confidence will reflect positively on his play, and the play of his teammates as well.
The play of Cavallini
Although we don’t yet know all the moves the Whitecaps will make for the rest of this offseason, we do know that Inbeom Hwang will be spending lots of time playing with new striker acquisition Lucas Cavallini. The interplay between the two will be something new for the ‘Caps, and it will be interesting to see how their relationship develops over the season.
At first glance, the play of new Whitecaps striker Lucas Cavallini will likely nicely complement Inbeom’s play. Cavallini will thrive off of through balls past the last line of defence and crosses from wingers, and thus Inbeom will enjoy the new offerings El Tanque brings him with those skills.
Although we know that Cavallini has much more to offer in Vancouver than just being a postman, Cavallini’s target man play will definitely prove useful for Inbeom’s attacking game. Hwang will be able to use Cavallini as a consistent outlet pass out of the midfield, where Cava will be able to consistently hold up the ball and keep it. From there, Cavallini will be able to play the ball back to one of the midfielders, or pass the ball out to the wingers, which will be the new starting point of the Whitecaps’ attacks. If the Whitecaps can consistently adopt this as their game plan, they will see a lot more success this upcoming season.
It will be exciting to see the interplay between Inbeom and his new teammates this season. If he is placed in that #8 role along a true #10 and #6, his confidence and risk-taking will take him to new heights. With his play being complimented by Lucas Cavallini, will this be Inbeom Hwang’s “breakout season” in Vancouver?
Let the countdown to February 29th begin.