This weekend sees the start of the Thai football season with Chiang Mai FC relegated to the eighteen team Thai League 2.
The season opens with a lot of changes to what is known as the M-150 Championship.
Four teams were promoted from Thai League 3
Khon Kaen United
Nakhon Pathom United
Just two teams were relegated from Thai League 1
Three teams were promoted from Thai League 2 at the end of the 2019 season:
Promoted to Thai League 1
BG Pathum United
In addition Ubon United have dropped down to League 4 and two teams have been closed down : Thai Honda and Army United. These two teams finished 5th and 6th last season. So only Sisaket of the top six teams is still in League 2 in 2020.
Finally there are two renamed clubs
Air Force United is now Uthai Thani
JL Chiangmai United was renamed as Chiangmai United
One more change; for the first time automatic promotion to League 1 will go to the top two teams only. The sides from 3rd to 6th will play-off for the third promotion spot. This will keep much more interest at clubs in the upper half of the table coming into the last few games of the season.
Three teams will (or more realistically may) be relegated.
So here is the League 2 line up for 2020:
Ayutthaya United Ayutthaya Provincial Stadium 6,000
Chainat Hornbill Khao Plong Stadium 8,625
Chiangmai FC Chiangmai Municipality Stadium 5,000
Chiangmai United Rajamangala University of technology Lanna Stadium (DoiSaket) 2,500
Grand AndamanRanong United FC Ranong Provincial Stadium 7,000
Kasetsart FC TOT Stadium Chaeng Watthana 5,000
Khonkaen United Khonkaen PAO. Stadium 7,000
KhonKaen FC Khonkaen PAO. Stadium 7,000
Lampang FC Lampang Provincial Stadium 5,500
Nakhon Pathom United Nakhon Pathom Municipality Sport School Stadium 6,000
Navy Football Club Sattahip Navy Stadium 6,000
Nongbua Pitchaya FC Nongbua Lamphu Provincial Stadium 4,333
MOF Customs United Customs Department Stadium,
Phrae United Huai Ma Stadium 2,500
Sisaket FC Sri Nakhon Lamduan Stadium 10,000
Thaiunion Samutsakhon FC Samut Sakhon Provincial Stadium 3,500
Udonthani FC IPE Udonthani Stadium 4,000
Uthai Thani FC Uthai Thani Province Stadium 4,477
It is goodbye to the big stadiums of Army, AirForce United and the 700th Anniversary stadium in Chiang Mai; and for the League 1 relegated teams it is good bye to the purpose built football stadia at clubs such as Buriram, Chiang Rai and Ratchaburi.
A quick look at the teams and a prediction for the season.
Ayutthaya finished 18th last season but were saved from relegation in order to keep League 2 at eighteen teams. They won just five games last season. Propped up at the back by the giant Spanish defender Dennis Nieblas they will likely fare little better this season. They should finish above the relegation zone but mainly because there are even weaker teams in this league. Ex Chiang Mai front man Ronnachai Rangsiyo has been acquired to score goals. Local supporters may be disappointed. Prediction: 17th.
Chainat Hornbill. Bouncing to and from League 1 Chainat should be strong and experienced enough to comfortably finish in the top six. One of the two Brazilians, Bruno Correa, apparently had documentation issues and could not be registered for the season leaving Andre Luis as the likely goal threat. The loss of Correa could be significant. He looked good in pre-season friendlies.
That loss moves my Chainat prediction down to 8th. Which would be a disappointment for a club looking for an immediate return to League 1. Prediction: 8th.
With 12 of a 23 man squad, and the manager, on loan from BG Pathum United Chiang Mai FC again look too dependent upon the largesse of their owner. Verdini is not the quality of Evson and Raphael does not appear to be a goalscorer. So much will depend upon Namibian journeyman striker Sadney Urikhob. Ryo Matsumura, signed from Rayong, looks the pick of the new foreign players. Also worth noting that there are only two players left in the squad who were with Chiang Mai at the end of last season and both were and are on loan from BG. This is a new team and it will need time to settle into the season. Prediction – 6th; but this may require many mid-season changes to the squad.
Chiang Mai United are the precocious upstarts of the northern city. The monied new boys compared to the much longer established and so far better supported Chiang Mai FC. After consolidating their position in League 2 last season their off season acquisitions have been striking; including recruiting ex Chiang Mai manager Carlos Eduardo Pereira as well as central defender Evson Patricio.
Evson will play in front of a choice of two ex Chiang Mai goalkeepers, Nont and the more experienced Pairot. Both need a good season at this level. Goals should come from Jeong Woo-geun who was leading scorer for Ayutthaya last season; Ghanaian Dominic Adiyiah who has joined from Sisaket and Melvin de Leeuw, a fine signing from Lampang.
Prediction 2nd. And the two local derbies should be very lively affairs.
MOF Customs United finished 15th in League 1 last season. Wanmai Setthanan has joined from Chiang Mai FC so look out for him at goal-scoring free kicks. Coach Worrawoot Srimaka has moved across from Kasetsart. Expect MOF to be organised but limited. Prediction. 14th.
In three years in League 2 Kasetsart have finished 12th or 13th. In what appears to be a weaker league their experience should be enough for an improvement. Ivory Coast forward Chomana Coulibaly may be the player to watch. Prediction 7th.
Eight last season in League 2 Khon Kaen were likely disappointed especially after being so close to League 1 at the end of the 2018 season. Khon Kaen will also have their own local derby against newly promoted Khon Kaen United. The two clubs will ground share. A solution that could not be reached in Chiang Mai. Narit, in goal, will be familiar to Chiang Mai fans after finishing last season with the northern club; including keeping Buriram at bay in the final game of the season during a frenetic last few minutes to deny them the league one title. The splendidly named Brazilian, Wallyson Mallmann, looks like a fine acquisition – young and with a background of top Portugese clubs. Artur Jesus Vieira has joined the club as a centre back with goals expected again from Seiya Sugishita. This should be a play-off team. Prediction 4th.
Coach Sugao Kambe has moved down the road from Nongbua Pitchaya to newly promoted Khon Kaen United. Douglas Cobo drives the team from centre back and was at the heart of their promotion team. But he is not the most mobile of defenders and may get found out at this level. Nigerian born, Bahrain naturalised, Jaycee John Okwunwanne, has joined the club as a striker. Spanish midfielder David Cuerva has returned to Thailand from a season in Iceland…the global game. Prediction. League 2 consolidation. 12th.
Towards the end of last season it looked as though Lampang were for sale and might be moving to Songkla. A number of the clubs best players moved on. Douglas Starnley Ferreira has joined as a forward from Helsingor in Denmark. He will likely play alongside Rodrigo Maranhão from Nongbua Pitchaya. This is a team that appears to have an uncertain future. Prediction – 11th.
Coach Thongchai Sukkoki has been with Nakhon Pathom United since 2017, that must be cllose to some sort of Thai record where coaches change so regularly. Newly promoted from League 3 South there is one eye-catching hire from Chiang Mai in fan favorite Mustafa Azadzoy. Defender Pedro Henrique has joined from Sarawak. Are there any central defenders left in Brazil? For the most part the club appears to have kept faith with the team that earned promotion. While wishing them, and Azadzoy well, I predict a 15th place finish.
16th last season the Royal Thai Navy FC appears to have been almost scuppered. Much will be expected of veteran Japanese midfielder Goshi Okubo, who has moved from Customs United. Prediction – 13th.
The gamecocks (really!) of Nongbua Pittchaya FC finished 11th last season and should be stronger this year. Coach Somchai Chuayboonchum managed Chiang Mai in 2014 and has moved from Sisaket who despite points deducted were almost promoted to League 1 in 2019. New recruits include Madagascar international winger Njiva Rakotoharimalala and the wonderfully named Marcos Vinícius da Costa Soares da Silva who joins from Bashundhara Kings in the Bangladesh domestic league. Experienced striker Valdomiro Soares Eggres (Valdo) has joined from Thai Honda where he scored plenty of goals. Korean Cho Sung-hwan comes in at centre-back from Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC. Nongbua look to have acquired some talent and a 3rd place finish is possible.
Phrae United, the pride of Phrae, finished second in League 3 North last season; they have strengthened their squad with the acquisition of El Salvador international forward Mark Léster Blanco Pineda, acquired from Jicaral in Costa Rica, and veteran (Brazilian born, Croatian national) defender Carlos Santos, acquired from Al-Shorta in Iraq; I suspect he might enjoy the change of scenery. Attacking midfielder Isaka Cernak has joined from Home Utd in Singapore.
Phrae have also recruited two ex-Chiang Mai veterans: Yuttajak Kornchan and my old favorite Pichitphong Choeichiu.
Much though I like Phrae I see a relegation battle in their future. Prediction: 16th.
Grand Andaman Ranong United is the most southerly team in League 2 this season promoted after finishing second in League 3 South. Damian Bellón is their Swiss born manager who played for ChiangMai before becoming the first team coach at Ranong United in Thai League 3 in October 2018. Last season’s top scorer, Tomohiro Onodera, is still with the club and will be expected to do the same in League 2. Sadly I do not think they have either the budget or the new players to survive. Prediction – 18th.
In their third season in League 2 Samut Sakhon have appointed Serbian Dragan Djurdjevic as their head coach. Their small squad is led by striker Cristiano (no not that one!). Previous evidence suggests that they will be rugged and an easy team to dislike! Which means that they should survive much as they have in previous seasons. A mid table finish. Prediction. 9th.
Sisaket FC won more games last season in League 2 than any side other than BG Pathum United. A 12 point deduction from the Thai FA left the club two points off promotion. They were also unbeaten at home. Worachai Surinsirirat has moved as coach from Thai Honda bringing with him midfielders Kento Nagasaki and Worachai Surinsirirat and striker Wanit Chaisan. Sisaket FC will be the team to beat in 2020. Prediction. 1st.
Udon Thani FC with their strong foreigner support, finished 7th last season, level on points with the now defunct Thai Honda. Additions to the squad include Jesse Curran, a Filipino-Australian acquired from Muangthong United. Montenegrin Aleksandar Kapisoda has joined as centre-back from Thai Hondai. Forward Rittiporn Wanchuen is another acquisition from Muangthong. Prediction – 3rd.
Finally Uthai Thani, the club formerly known as Air Force United, and now relocated to central Thailand. A 14th place finish last season suggests the club will not be challenging this season. Young Ghanaian forward Prince Amponsah has joined from Chonburi, Brazilian midfielder Moreira comes in from Ayutthaya together with the well traveled, and very tall, Jardel Capistrano, once of Khon Kaen. Supporters are taking the new season seriously with cheer practice sessions earlier this week.They may also have the cheapest shirts in the League at Baht390. Prediction 10th.
Expect a large number of player changes in the mid-season transfer window as clubs match their squads to their ambitions.
Written with suitable apologies to everyone who knows far more about the League, teams and players than I do.