Fields of Dreams

Welcome back to a new Thai League 2 season where this year the quality may be as unpredictable as the drama.

After two long seasons that were blighted by Covid the new season will start on time and no club has yet announced restrictions on the number of supporters who may attend. Fingers remain crossed that common sense prevails and everyone is made welcome.

With the removal of the Covid quarantine restrictions we will also see a good number of foreign players coming to Thailand for the first time.

There are six new clubs in the League – the three relegated from T1 are Suphanburi, Chiang Mai United and Samut Prakan City. The three promoted sides from T3 are Krabi FC, Nakhon Si United and Uthai Thani, who return after just one season in T3.

With the transfer window running until 9 August some clubs were last minute shoppers; either hunting out the bargains that other clubs have over-looked or finally capitulating to the endless pressure of players’ agents. That also means that there will be changes to some squads after this article is completed. Apologies in advance for what may be seen as oversights.

The issue with late arrivals is that there is little time to assess fitness, assimilate them into the playing ethos of the coach and create relationships with their new squad. Some teams built their squad early and that must be an advantage at the start of the season.

As last year this preview will arrive in three parts – if only to keep Samut Prakan and Udon Thani fans in suspense for a few days.

Meanwhile some perhaps obvious thoughts about how to succeed in this League.

Scoring goals matters: the promoted teams from the last three seasons have each averaged 69 goals in the season.

Meanwhile 65 points should get a club into the top two automatic promotion places; Trat were unlucky last year to be overtaken by Lamphun and Sukhothai.

Home form matters; Lamphun, Sukhothai and Trat all won 13 home games last season.  The next best was nine home wins. Lamphun and Sukhothai were promoted as they also won 9 games on the road.

There is a four week break and a transfer window mid-season. Any team that is in the top half of the League mid-season can re-assess both their objectives and available resources as Lamphun Warriors did last season to great effect.

The play-offs (now starting their third year) keep players and fans interested until the last kick of the season. Anything better than 56 or 57 points should earn a play-off spot at which point anything can happen. Lampang finished 11 points behind Trat in the League but it is Lampang who are playing in T1 this season. So who has the squad to score enough goals for at least a play-off berth?  Here are my 2022/2023 predictions. Again alphabetically with four clubs in part one and seven each in parts 2 and 3.

Ayutthaya United: After 9th and then 11th places in the last two seasons their squad looks incomplete at the time of writing.

Ayutthaya are no longer connected with SCG Muangthong United who provided at least a dozen (it was hard to keep track) loan players last season.  

The addition of three new-to-Thailand Brazilians should give local fans reason for some optimism. As a centre – forward Nilson has played most of his football in Brazil but has also ventured to Bolivia and to play for Pegasus in Hong Kong.  He is joined in attack by Gustavinho from SER Caxias do Sul in Brazil. Thiago Duchatsch is a 1.90m centre back from Audax Rio de Janeiro EC.

Also new to the club is defender Kazuki Murakami (not the author) who joins from Sisaket.

Ayutthaya were Jekyll and Hide home and away last season. Just two defeats at home and eleven losses on the road. That will need to be addressed to avoid anything other than the lower half of the table. Prediction: 15th.

Chiang Mai FC: After two grim seasons for CMFC fans it does appear that owners and management have made a commitment to rebuilding the club with a combination of new players and the return of some of last year’s most promising loan players from BGPU.

However, with twelve of the squad on loan from BGPU it is clear where the money and influence lies and there will always be questions over whether loan players are available for the full season and what objectives BGPU has for the club. At some stage for CMFC, and any other feeder club, to succeed the club needs its own identity and long-term sustainability.

The catch with being a loan player is that you are serving three masters, yourself and your own career, the coach of the club that you are playing for, and the dream of being called back to contribute to the success of your parent club. It is at least one master, or mistress, too many.

The issue for Chiang Mai, as it was last season, is where will  the goals come from? Patrick Gustavsson, who joined in the middle of last season, and Stenio Junior (recruited from FK Partizani in Tirana) appear to be the starting forwards supported by a packed midfield.

The defense looks solid. Veljko Filipovic starts his second season at the club; ex club captain Suwannaphat Kingkaew returns on loan from BGPU and Singaporean international Rhyhan Stewart has joined from Garena Young Lions. A late addition is Suwit Paipromet who made a big contribution at Lamphun in the second half of last season.
Prediction: 4th

Chiang Mai United had a miserable last season in T1. Looking for an immediate return they have managed to keep a core group of players under new manager Chusak Sribhum.

The veteran Bill Rosimar remains on loan from Chiang Rai United. Bill will play alongside Melvin de Leeuw, who has returned to Chiang Mai after helping Sukhothai back to T1. They could be the goal scoring partnership to watch this season.

In defense the club has retained Evson, Sirisak and Ronnapee. Trat’s 2021/2022 first choice goalkeeper, Tossaporn Sri-reung has also joined Chiang Mai and will compete with Pairote Elam-mak for a first team place.

New additions also include Sansern Limwatthana and Nantawat Suankaew, both on loan from Port FC; Yuto Ono (not related) from Samut Prakan City and a number of ex T3 players presumably better known to the new manager.

Do not be surprised if the club looks for one additional striker and/or some pace on either wing as support for Bill and de Leeuw. A day or so after I wrote this the club signed Oliver Bias, primarily a right winger and a Philippines international. He is also the captain of the Philippines U23 team. He previously played for the youth national teams of Germany, the country of his birth.

Through slightly gritted teeth this looks to be the team to beat this season.
Prediction. League Champions

Chainat Hornbill FC have made the playoffs the last two seasons. Daniel Blanco has joined as manager and has plenty of experience with clubs at this level.

But the departure of Wellington Priori is significant – he was their talisman last season and it is hard to see where that drive will come from. Dennis Nieblas joins from Ayutthaya to replace Daneil Cyrus.  

Theerapat Laohabut and Sarayut Yoosuebchuea have arrived on loan from Muangthong. They were at Ayutthaya last season.

The issue, once again, will be goals. Last season’s three leading goalscorers have left the club. Diego Oliveiras has arrived from Nakhon Si United together with Ho-ju Choi from Rajpracha.  Chainat may need Warayut Klomnak to contribute more than the six goals netted last season.

Chainat is a club that is easy to admire with a focus of developing local young players and a stadium that is T1 ready. They may just not have the firepower this season.
Prediction: 9th.

Part Two will travel from Customs United to Phrae FC.