A league for the haves and the have nots….

Thai League 2
2023-2024 Predictions

Once again it is time to rub the magic predictor lamp for another season of football in Thailand’s League 2. An early warning – this is a) long b) will have inaccuracies and typos and c) may be quickly out of date in a final flourish of new hires.

A reminder that we have lost six teams – Nakhon Pathom, Trat and Uthai Thani were promoted to T1. We can expect to see at least one of them back in T2 next season.

Ranong, Udon Thani and Rajpracha were all relegated and will play in their respective T3 region.

Joining T2 this season are the three teams relegated from T1 – Nakhon Ratchasima (Swatcats), Nongbua Pitchaya and Lampang; the three teams that have been promoted from T3 are Chanthaburi, DP Kanchanburi and Pattaya United.

With all the talk of the T1 clubs separating from the Thai League to manage their own interests – effectively a Thai Premier League – this may be a make or break year for the lower league teams. At the time of writing there is no tv deal for T2 this season and clubs are being told to arrange their own coverage using their social media channels. Budgets are shrinking. Sponsors are increasingly hard to find.

Sponsorship, tv money and wealthy owners will flock to a Thai Premiership. The fans will pay for 24/7 television coverage; the big clubs will make the rules and the remaining teams will be left feeding on scraps from the table.

If you want to sit at the top table this is the season to grab your seat.

Last season was an unusually close contest. Just nine points separated the top ten teams; compare that to 32 and 34 points the previous two seasons. Nakhon Pathom won the 2022/2023 league with just 60 points; compared to Nongbua Pitchaya with 75 and Lamphun with 74 in the two previous years.

The last three seasons have also seen one team that has been promoted in successive years from T3 to T2 to T1. Khon Kaen United; Lamphun and Uthai Thani. Could any of the three promoted sides continue this trend? First prediction – not this year.

So welcome to the season of the haves and the have-nots; have money, sponsors, ambition and hope; and then the rest.

Please note that there may be some late additions to squads before the transfer window closes.

Here are this year’s eighteen T2 teams – in alphabetical order.

Ayutthaya United – 11th

An exodus of quality players from Ayutthaya suggests that the club’s ambitions have now met financial reality. Nilsson, Gustavinho, Simon Dia, Jakkapan, Seksit and Prin have all left the club.

An MOU has been signed with Bangkok United for Ayutthaya to become the support club for the T1 side. Players that were sent last season to Bolaven Samut Prakan in T3 will now be appearing for Ayutthaya in T2.

Bangkok United have already released Natthawut Suksum, a versatile forward who has played for Thailand U-23s, to move to Ayutthaya United. He was previously on loan with PT Prachuap.

He joins Ayutthaya on loan with centre back Kritsada Nontharat, previously on loan at Trat and by Nathawat Kokfai previously on loan with Sukhothai.

The coach at Samut Prakan was Daniele (Danny) Invincibile, a retired Australian footballer with 128 appearances for Swindon Town in England and 199 for Scottish club Kilmarnock.

After finishing his playing career with Army FC in Thailand he joined the coaching staff at Bangkok United.

He is now rumoured, not yet confirmed, to be the new coach at Ayutthaya.

The Cheer Ayutthaya page on facebook is reporting that Karolis Laukzemis, a Lithuanian striker will join Ayutthaya – the second foreign player after Korean defender An Sung-min, a veteran Korean defender, who appears to have been called out of retirement!

Karolis was previously playing for FK Banga Gargzdai in Lithuania’s Optibet A Lyga. 2 goals in 22 games last season is not a great return but his height and physicality could trouble T2 defenses.

Also announced as I write this is the signing of the Dutch/Liberian striker Moussa Sanoh.

Born in the Ivory Coast he has Liberian and Dutch nationalities. Sanoh has played for the PSV Eindhoven youth team; also for Crawley Town when Harry Kewell was the manager. He moved to Romania and to Malta and then back to the Netherlands most recently with FC Eindhoven in the Dutch second tier.

He also played for Liberia in the African qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup.

Yuttapong Srilakorn is a centre back who has moved from Songkhla and another veteran, Mongol Tossakrai is a right winger who has moved across from Kasetsart.

Chainat Hornbill FC – 13th

Another club that is looking to manage its budget; focusing as they have previously done on promoting academy players.

This is also another club that is now sponsored by the ubiquitous Muang Thai Insurance Company.

Kiadtiphon Udom will presumably be the first choice goalkeeper; arriving from BGPU after a loan spell in the first half of last season at Chiang Mai FC.

Other new players include Thanawathan Authanpaisal, a 23 years old midfielder and Burhanuddin Lomae, a 26 years old midfield.

A late addition is J-In Jong a 22 year old South Korean defender about whom little appears to be known other than he just left university!

An interesting acquisition is the Tongan/Australian winger At A Jnr Inia from Navy FC. The young winger has moved from Navy FC of the Thai League 3.

In 2020 he joined Angkor Tiger of the Cambodian Premier League and became Tonga’s first-ever professional footballer.

The question is whether he is as good as his self-belief?

The defender Thanin Kiatlerttam has also joined from BGPU.

Chainat will be full of youthful exuberance and well organized but it is hard to see where the goals will come from.

Chanthaburi – 16th

Three of the key players from their T3 promotion push have left, both centre backs – Nattapol and Alex Flavio and centre forward Luan Santos who has moved to Lampang. Replacements have arrived from other T3 sides.

The Philippines centre forward Bienve Marañón arrived from Villarrubia CF in the Segunda División B, Group 4. With dual nationality he has played most of his football in Spain but was a Philippines international.

Contracts have been renewed for the goalkeeper, Sarawut Konglap, Jirawat Chingchaiyaphum, Yannarit Sukcharoen, Nattawut Dantrawen, the right winger Charin Boodhad and the captain Kitinun Suttiwiriyakul.

Without a rash of last signings Chanthaburi look a lesser side than last season’s promoted team and a return to T3 looks very possible. They will, however, be buoyed by their very vocal home supporters.

Chiang Mai FC. 3rd

After severing the umbilical cord that tied the club to Boon Rawd Breweries Chiang Mai’s new owner has invested in a squad that combines returning players with some experienced additions.

Local fans will have high expectations of a front line that includes Stenio Junior (returning to CMFC from BGPU, Byung-soo Yoo (from Chonburi), Chitchanok Xaysensourinthone (also BGPU) and Akarawin Sawsdee (Chiang Rai United). David Cuerva, rescued from Customs United, will prompt from midfield, together with Im ChangKyoon who looked so good in the closing stages of last season.

Transfer deadline day saw the addition of Thai international midfielder Charyl Chappuis on loan from Port FC.

Born in Kloten, Switzerland Chappuis spent the early years of his career there before moving to Thailand with Buriram in 2014. He joined Port from SCG Muanthong in February 2020 but made just 12 appearances for Port last season, 10 of those as substitute with limited playing time.

His resume includes both 21 international caps for Thailand, and a boggling 1.3 million Instagram followers.

Chappuis is a seriously high profile signing – celebrity football has come to Chiang Mai. Hopefully he will relish the opportunity for more regular football and to make a massive impression across Chiang Mai.

The main concern may be a lack of height in defense; Piyachanok and Suwannapat (both on loan from BGPU last season) have returned; joined by Nukoolkit from PT Prachuap. Behind the back line are two bright young goalkeepers; Fahas is the more experienced and Anipong, the impressive challenger.

Jun Fukuda returns as coach; his hands no longer tied by the BGPU shackles. With the resources at his disposal a more attacking style is likely this season.

Freedom brings its own energy and opportunities; the club can create its own successes – and of course make its own mistakes. But that has to be better for everyone than constantly expecting the worst of your parent club.

Chiang Mai United. 6th

Eliminated by Customs Utd in the playoffs last season Chiang Mai United will again be looking for a return to T1.

There has been a thorough spring clean of last season’s squad. Big names that have gone are Evson, Melvin de Leeuw, Yuto Ono, Sirisak, Surawich, Deyvison, Iain Ramsay and Nanthawat.

This may be a good thing – there were times when last year’s squad looked less than motivated. That said they were unfortunate to be removed from the playoffs on the away goals rule and against a team that then said that they would not apply for a T1 license.

The new front line will be led by the buzzing Mosquito (from Lampang)  alongside Ho Ju Choi (from Krabi), the evergreen Jeffren Suarez (from Lamphun) and Than Paing a Myanmar international center forward.

Two new centre backs are Marlon Silva from Phrae and ex CMFC favorite, Tossapol Chomchon.

The ex-Chainat goalkeeper Pathomtat has joined to challenge Pairote for the starting position.

Chonlawit and Tanakorn are new additions on loan from Lamphun joining their old teammate Sarawut. Pattara and Thanison arrive on loan from Buriram’s Academy.

There is plenty of experience in that squad. But maybe not enough quality and this will be the season when CMFC finishes above their noisy neighbour.

Customs United 17th

Customs appear to have ended their relationship with Port FC.

Unfortunately despite their pre-season friendlies there is very little public information about the new squad. The club’s own facebook page is comatose.

There has been a big exodus of last year’s play-off squad. Adnan Orahovac has returned to Montenegro; David Cuerva moved to Chiang Mai FC; Phodchara Chainarong is on loan at Nakhon Pathom; Aung Kaung Mann is at Chonbburi; Alexandre di Estefano moved to Albania with Flamurtari FC.

You get the idea; the big names have moved on.

Part of the problem is Customs supporter base is that small that there are no inquisitive fan pages.

So at the time of writing I know very little about the 2023/2024 version of Customs. If they are relegated they will not be missed. There are many better supported clubs in T3 that could replace them.

DP Kanchanaburi FC 15th

A welcome addition to the League; hopefully they will enjoy the fan support that was previously enjoyed by Muangkan United. 

This is going to be a big, and uncompromising, side; at the time of writing the club’s squad is showing six centre halfs and four centre forwards. Park Jae-hyeong is a 1.87 centre half who has moved from Chanthaburi. Louis Panmanmee May spent half a season at Chiang Mai FC without getting a start. The move should be good for him. Jeferson Sousa a Brazilian centre-back has moved from Oratory Youths FC in Malta.

Up front are two giant Brazilians. Junior Batista arrived from EC Democrata in the Brazilian Regional Leagues and Jardel Capistrano spent last season with Songkhla and Rajpracha.

I am expecting route one football from Kanchanaburi without a lot of finesse. More of a medieval battering ram. It could work in this League.

Kasetsart FC 12th

Kasetsart are another club that has recruited heavily pre-season. I have this theory that they will hope to get enough points in the first half of the season so that they can then cut their wage bill mid-season.

Financial issues have be-devilled this club; and they only escaped relegation last season on head to head goal difference.

There are some familiar names among their new hires; Christian Alex, once of Chiang Mai FC has joined from Sisaket United; Ritthidet from Phrae United; the goalkeeper Thatpicha from Samut Prakan City; Hafis Hayi-Arsan and Lee Jong-Cheon both from Suphanburi – Lee will likely form a Korean centre half duo with Park Hyun-woo.

New from Myanmar to Thailand are winger Aee Soe, and centre forward Kaung Myat Thu. Japanese winger Ryosuke Nagasawa played for Phuket City in 2019.

Kasetsart always seem to be a club that is just a couple of games away from their next crisis. A 12th place finish in 2019 with 40 points is their best to date.

Krabi FC 18th

There are rumours of Chinese buyers looking to invest in Krabi; this has led to some uncertainty in building a squad for the new season.

The front line, Bardar Ali, Chigozie Mbah and Choi Ho-ju, which had an effective second half of the season have all moved on. So has coach Somchai Makmool who did much to keep Krabi afloat last season

But it is confirmed that the “Andaman Eagles” will continue in Thai League 2 for sure and the team completed initial training on 26 July.

This year the squad will include more local players as the club seeks to control costs. A familiar theme.

Fourteen players were retained from last season including the goalkeeper Panupan, Suwat Yadee, once of Uthai Thani, and the Iranian defender, Hamed Bakhtiari. Akarat Punkaew, the captain and right back is also staying for another season.

Krabi delayed new player announcements until after the transfer deadline closed. Porncha Rodnakkaret is a winger, once of Chiang Mai FC and Rajpracha; he spent last season with Trat FC and made 20 league appearances last season.

Supphachok Kumat is a young goalkeeper who was with BGPU Academy before moving to Chiang Mai as the back-up ‘keeper.

The recent announcements should appease local fans who had been asking “Is there any news about the composition of the team? New players, old players, coaches, etc.” The club’s facebook page was not helpful and fans complained about their comments being blocked.

Krabi may well be this season’s Udon Thani – and that would be a shame. It is a fun place to visit.

Lampang FC 7th

Of the relegated teams Lampang may find it the most difficult to return to T1.  

A significant exodus of players has seen the departure of Mosquito and  Yuki Bamba and at least seven loan players return to Nongbua.

But the club has recruited effectively adding T2 experience together with players that made a mark on T3. The Nongbua partnership has not ended with currently four players arriving from the NE club.

Players that could make an impact include Luan Pereira dos Santos; a 1.90 metre centre forward who scored 19 times in 22 games for Chanthaburi last season. His partner up front Caio Rodrigues has also moved to Lampang.

On the left side Lim Jae-Huk has moved from Police Tero.

Leo Santos a Brazilian centre back joins from Nongbua and Kantapol Sompittayanurak has moved down Highway 11 from Chiang Mai United.

Saharat Panmarchya is a late arrival into midfield after two years with PT Prachuap.

Of the goalkeepers Jirunpong Thamsiha has left for the bright lights of Samut Prakan City leaving Kittisak and Suchin Yen-Arrom to compete for the starting role.

Lampang’s other main advantage is a stadium that no one want to play in or visit. Lighting will at least be much improved after a season in T1 but it will remain a difficult place to visit and also another fun place to go for the weekend.

Nakhon Ratchasima FC 1st

Probably the least expected of the relegation teams and a team that will want to quickly return to the senior league.

First things first; manage the wage bill:

Charlie Clough has moved to Port FC; Saharat Kaewsangsai returned to Chiang Mai United; Tyronne Gustavo del Pino Ramos left for Persib FC in Indonesia; Henrique da Silva de Sousa went to Bhayangkara again in Indonesia and the Aussie, Jordan Murray, to Chennaiyin FC in India.

New hires include players with sound T2 experience. Greg Houla from Chainat (and many other places); Deyvison Fernandes and Nattachai Srisuwan (both from Chiang Mai United); Ekkasit Chaobut and Nattawut Jaroenboot (two ex Sukhothai midfielders).

Abbas Mohamad is a young Iraqi/Swede center back who is moving from GAIS Göteborg in the Swedish second tier. He will presumably partner Apisit Khuankwai from Khon Kaen United.

My favorite member of the new squad is left-winger, Melvyn Lorenzen; born in London; a German citizen who has one international cap for Uganda. He arrives in Thailand from the wonderfully named VfR Wormatia Worms in the German Fifth Tier.

Worms is the city where the Diet of Worms was held. A meeting of the Diet (assembly) of the Holy Roman Empire held in 1521 and made famous by Martin Luther’s appearance before it to respond to charges of heresy. Also a part of history that makes English speaking schoolboys giggle for hours…even decades.

My worry for the Swatcats is whether they have enough firepower to assert themselves over T2 opposition. Houla and Deyvison will need to be motivated to make an impact.

Swatcat supporters, and there are plenty of them, will expect nothing less than an immediate return to T1.

Nakhon Si United 4th

A blend of last year’s squad of Thai players and newly hired foreign players will make NakhonSi United once again a challenger.

Last season Nakhon Si led the league at mid-season before falling to 8th place. If they are again  contending mid-season they are unlikely to slip up again.

Up front Valdo Suarez has joined from Trat and Rodrigo Maranhao from Phrae. Pedro Palo, another Brazilian centre-forward returns to Thailand after three years in Vietnam, most recenty at Viettel FC.

There are goals in that front line.

Goalkeeper Anirut Naiyana has arrived from Uthai Thani as cover for the unpredictable Samuel Cunningham.

With plenty of experience in the Thai leagues, and 57 full caps for Laos, Soukaphone Vongchiengkham will sit in front of the back line. He is one of a number of Trat FC’s T2 promotion side that will be hoping for a repeat this season including Isariya, Amornthep, and Nutthapong.
Kwon Dae-Hee is a strong centre half with almost a decade of experience in Thailand. He has joined Nakhon Si from PT Prachuap.

Well supported at home and away Nakhon Si will be at least a play-off side in their sophomore year in T2.

Nongbua Pitchaya  2nd

The last of the three relegated teams. They have also recruited well with Nilsson Silva (ex Ayutthaya) and Kento Nagaski from Uthai Thani. The goalscoring-goalkeeper Prim Goonchorn arrives from Ayutthaya United.

But the big (literally) unknown element is Deshorn Brown. From the Caribbean nation that brought you Michael Holding,  Courtney Walsh and Chris Gayle comes a 1.88m Jamaican centre forward who has spent most of his career playing in the USA and in India but has also played in Norway, China and Spain. His 15 Jamaican caps were between 2013 and 2015. He has scored goals wherever he has played.

Nilsson scored 18 times in 27 appearances last season; a season that was interrupted by a broken nose. He and Brown could be the partnership to watch this season.

At center half Aleksander Kapisoda has moved from Nakhon Si United returning close to his old haunts in Udon Thani. He will need to take responsibility in defense rather than assigning responsibility. He will presumably partner Korean Ho-min Jeong in defense.

A number of squad players (seven at last count) have also returned from Lampang FC including the Songma twins, Jakkrit and Jakkrawut, centre forward Chawin Thirawatsri and Narongkorn Buasri in right midfield.

Nongbua start their season with the longest trip in Thai League 2 – an away game on 12 August at Nakhon Si United; a gentle 2,600kms round trip. It’s a potential top of the table clash the first weekend of the season.

Pattaya United 14th

Pattaya were promoted late in the off-season when NakhonSi City, who had earned promotion the T3 playoffs withdrew from T2 due to financial and stadium issues.

They will benefit from (cough) enthusiastic local support.

The late move left little time to put together a T2 squad. And of course most players-of-interest already had finalized contracts for the new season.

Up front Nicolas Velez and Thodsaphon Yodachan, both a part of the T3 squad, already had contracts until 2024. Contract extensions also went to Warut, Wanmai (once of CMFC) and Supakit.

Alex Flavio the Brazilian defender has joined from Chanthaburi; a Brazilian right winger, Judivan, from Khon Kaen FC, and Badar Ali the Omani international from Krabi. 

40 year old Prasit Padungchok was first choice goalkeeper at BGPU until the end of 2022 but has had no first team football since. His experience may be valuable.

My sense is that Pattaya would be happy to survive this season and then have the time to build their squad for 2024/2025.

Phrae Utd. 9th

The departure of three of their star foreign players suggests another club with money issues. Taku Ito (to Nakhon Pathom) Marlon Silva to Chiang Mai United and Rodrigo Maranhao to Nakhon Si United. These three players were at the heart of Phrae’s success.

The big news from Phrae is the arrival of Patrick Cruz, a 30 year old Brazilian forward who played for Chonburi FC in 2019. His latest club was Ghajnsielem FC in the Malta League. Last season he played in all 18 matches and scored 10 goals.

Myanmar centre forward Kyaw Ko returns from Shan United in his home country to Phrae – where he previously played in 2020/2021. Gi Sung Yeon, previously with Rayong, joins him up front with the Brazilian, Elias Fernandes de Oliveira, on the right wing – previously with Pattaya United.

Brazilian midfielder Lucas Felipe Dauberman joins from Toyama Shinju in Japan’s J4 League.

Thai/Norwegian Håvar Dahl arrives from Pattaya United. Also in midfield.

There have been lots of changes at Phrae – but they are likely to be as competitive once again.

Rayong FC 8th

Rayong have retained plenty of experience  from last season including Thiago Chulapa; goalkeeper Nopthun and club captain Wasusiwatit.

They have also retained Myanmar international Lwin Moe Aung; he scored ten goals in 32 appearances last season and looked more than useful.

Adding a 41 year old centre back (Hiromichi Katano from Trat FC) seems less than ambitious. He can also help settle the young right midfielder, Ryoma Ito, who comes from Iwaki in Japan’s J2 league.

A generation younger are Rayong’s latest signings, half Thai-American rising star siblings, “Micah Duchowny” the 20 year-old defender and “Jonah Duchowny”,  the 18 year-old attacking midfielder.. They both played for Cruzeiro EC Academy in Brazil,in fact, they were the first Thai’s to ever play in the top-tier  Brazilian Academy League. An investment for the future.

But I will be looking out for Manish Dengki a Nepalese international winger and the first Nepalese to play professionally in Thailand.

Samut Prakan City 10th

No longer associated with Chonburi Samut Prakan have been on a recruitment spree after retaining just four players from last season.

Phil Williams in his blog noted that the new squad is “a decent mix of experienced and inexperienced T2 and T3 players, plus a sprinkling of youngsters from various football academies. Jiraaut Wingwon returns from Songkhla for his second spell at the club, the well-known and much-liked Ronnachai Rangsiyo brings his international experience, Apichok Srirawong and Kritsada Siwanit have both come in from Chianat Hornbill, where they made over 40 appearances between them last season. There are a couple of players from T3 Sisaket United and also Kitti Kinnonkok, a striker who scored 13 goals in 19 games for Chainat United in the same division.”

Samut Prakan City finished their pre-season shopping by adding Thanat Wongsuphalak and Ronnachai Phongputta both from teams in T3.

Last season he was with Chanthaburi FC in the first leg before moving to Phitsanulok FC in the second leg and becoming the Northern Zone champion.

Sho Shimuji the popular 38 year old Japanese midfield player has returned for another season.

Lee Sang Jin is a 22 year old Korean forward who has already seen the world in a short football career that has including Korea, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Greece and now Thailand.

Their two new Brazilians are unknown quantities. Bianor Neto (full name: Bianor das Gracas Lima da Silva Neto) is a 29-year old centre-back acquired presumably at a discount from KF Llapi in the Albi Mall Superliga league in Kosovo.  Fernando Viana, a 31-year old striker, has been playing for Santo Andre in the Brazilian 4th division. His previous travels have seen in play in Hungary, Bulgaria, South Korea and the UAE.

Expect lots of enthusiasm and some good technical players. who may not be physically strong enough squad to cope with the likes of Nakhon Si United or Nongbua.

Mid table would be a good finish.

Suphanburi FC 5th

The other defeated play off team from last season Suphanburi should again challenge for the top 6.

But Douglas Tardin, Matheus Souza,  João Paulo and the very tall Jong-cheon Lee have all moved on. Their replacements include Gustavinho, a Brazilian winger who was with Ayutthaya last season, Yuki Bamba from Lampang, Joseph Obama is a centre back who came from Rayong and Matheus Vieira da Silva a lumbering centre-forward from Udon Thani who might benefit this season from playing in a better team.

Danusorn Wijitpunya has also joined from Ayutthaya.

This year’s Suphanburi may look much like last year’s!

And to finish:

I do not expect any side or even two sides to be dominant making for a season with plenty of drama – and where once again the changes made in the mid-season transfer window may be critical.

A final caveat. Last year I predicted Nakhon Pathom to finish 12th – and they won the league. It is an endurance test not a sprint and Nakhon Pathom embraced that.

Wherever you are enjoy the season. Do try and get to as many games as you can. The players, the clubs and the League need your support.

And here by way of summary are my predicted final league standings.

1 Nakhon Ratchasima
2 Nongbua Pitchaya
3 Chiang Mai FC
4 Nakhon Si United
5 Suphanburi
6 Rayong FC
7 Chiang Mai United
8 Lampang
9 Phrae United
10 Samut Prakan City
11 Ayutthaya United
12 Kasetsart
13 Chainat
14 Pattaya United
15 Kanchanaburi
16 Chanthaburi
17 Customs United
18 Krabi

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