A young South Korean soccer sensation is joining the Vancouver Whitecaps, but head coach Marc Dos Santos warns that Hwang In-beom is unlikely to immediately light up the field in Major League Soccer.
The club announced Wednesday that it had reached a deal to transfer the 22-year-old midfielder from South Korea's Daejeon Citizen FC.
No official details have been released about how much the agreement will cost the 'Caps, who described Hwang in a news release as "one of the top up-and-coming talents in Asia." Media reports have pegged the figure at $1.8 million.
Dos Santos said he and his staff had been looking to bring Hwang into the club for a long time.
"Every game we were watching him, we were more and more convinced that this was a player that we had to do everything in our means to bring him to Vancouver," the coach told reporters on Wednesday.
"He's a player that gives a lot of rhythm in the midfield. ... He's just very comfortable with the ball, he's not afraid to be in possession, to give rhythm to the team, he has a very good last pass."
The five-foot-10, 155-pound athlete joined Daejeon Citizen FC's first team in 2015 and has put up 15 goals for the club in 88 league appearances.
He's also been called up to the Korean national team 12 times, including for the Asian Cup earlier this month where he was listed as one of the tournament's 10 best young stars to watch.
But adjusting to life in Vancouver — and in the MLS — will take time, Dos Santos said.
"We cannot think that he's a player who's a saviour," he said. "He's a player that has his characteristics, his qualities on the field. And he's going to need some time to adapt to a new culture, a new club."
Putting together a deal to get Hwang to Vancouver was a long process with many moving parts, including competition from big, international clubs, Dos Santos added.
The coach said he spoke extensively with Paulo Bento, a retired Portuguese soccer player who now manages South Korea's national team, and Bento reassured Hwang that he'll still be able to compete for his homeland while playing in the MLS.
At least one former player was enlisted to encourage the young athlete.
"Y.P. Lee just said 'Look, I played here years ago and I still live here. So that's what I think about Vancouver,'" said Dos Santos, referring to the South Korean soccer great who played for the 'Caps in 2012 and 2013. "So Y.P. Lee was also one of the tools we used to talk with the player and explain what we're about here.”
Hwang's contract is for two years through 2020, though Vancouver will have options to extend in 2021 and 2022.
Once official paperwork is complete, the native of Daejeon, South Korea, will occupy an international spot on the Whitecaps' roster and be listed as a young designated player. Vancouver has five international spots available.
The Whitecaps signing Hwang shows that burgeoning soccer stars are seeing the MLS as a place they can grow and develop, Dos Santos said.
Stories like Alphonso Davies — the former teenage Whitecaps star who was transferred to Bayern Munich six months ago — show the league's potential, he said.
"It's changing," the coach said. "The league is changing. Players are seeing it as a huge opportunity."
Hwang is just the latest acquisition for the club.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Whitecaps announced they had signed 32-year-old right back Scott Sutter to one-year deal. Last week, Vancouver added defensive midfielder Jon Erice, as well as wingers Lass Bangoura and Lucas Venuto.