I must admit that when news first broke that Ji So-yun would be leaving the WK League in South Korea to play for the Seattle Reign, I had a reaction similar to this:
After all, Ji was the string-pulling midfield artist who brought Chelsea so much silverware across head coach Emma Hayes’ time at the club. Chelsea won five league titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and a Community Shield, and the team made a Champions League final with Ji in the center of the park.
Ji was, more importantly, a statement made by Hayes about what Chelsea was going to be. Hayes had already brought in Yuki Nagasato and Sofia Jakobsson the year before as big international signings, but Ji’s arrival in 2014 was different. Jakobsson was a No. 9, and Nagasato was a box-crashing No. 8. Hayes needed someone who could connect the two — perhaps find spaces from which neither would have heretofore considered viable to create chances. Chelsea had finished seventh in an eight-team league before Ji showed up in west London. The club was more than a year away from becoming fully professional. A player was needed who could not only help them win, but show how differently a professional side could operate.
Ji became that player — and then some. Chelsea shot to second place in 2014, denied as champions by a mere two-goal swing in goal differential. Nagasato and Eniola Aluko each scored five goals and tied for third in the Golden Boot race, led by Ji’s playmaking. The following season, the club fully professionalized and won its first league title. The rest, as they say, is history.
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