It seems to have taken until the next-to-last week of preseason for the Union to get a hold of the midfield playmaker they’ve been seeking for so long. But after so many promises and expectations, the quest appears to be finally nearing completion.
The target of the Union’s pursuits is Borek Dockal, a 29-year-old Czech Republic native. He has 35 appearances and six goals for the Czech national team dating to 2012.
Dockal’s deal is likely to be a year-long loan from his current club, China’s Henan Jianye. The Czech agency that represents him, Sport Invest, announced on Tuesday that he flew to America this week for medical examinations and to finish contract negotiations.
“I can confirm that we went with Borek Dockal to the U.S. to discuss a possible contract with the Philadelphia Union,” Sport Invest chairman Viktor Kolar said in a statement issued to Czech media and the Inquirer and Daily News. “The club has been interested in Borek for a long time, but the club in China didn’t even want to discuss it for a long time. Finally, after long negotiations, we managed to negotiate the possibility of a one-year loan. However, there are still some things to do — for example, a medical examination and final form of a possible contract.”
(By coincidence, Sport Invest also represents new Flyers goaltender Petr Mrazek, who came to Philadelphia in a trade from the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.)
Kolar told a Czech media outlet that Dockal is now on the way to Clearwater, Fla., where the Union are based for their preseason training. That was later confirmed to the Inquirer and Daily News by a separate source.
Dockal’s national team experience includes seven caps in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. The Czechs failed to reach Russia, finishing third in their group, behind Northern Ireland and undefeated Germany.
He was on the Czech squad at the 2016 European Championship, playing in a 2-0 loss to Turkey at the end of the group stage. In 2014, he played in a friendly against the United States in Prague. The American team included future Union teammate Alejandro Bedoya, who scored in a 1-0 U.S. win.
Dockal has played most of his career in the Czech league, including from 2013 to 2017 with national powerhouse club Sparta Prague. He registered 30 goals and 51 assists in 135 games across all competitions for Sparta. Thirty-seven of those games were in European competitions, including UEFA Champions League qualifiers and the second-tier Europa League.
While at Sparta, Dockal crossed paths with future Union midfielder Fafa Picault. Sparta was Picault’s first European home after departing the second-tier North American Soccer League in December of 2014. Picault and Dockal played together once, in a 2015 Czech cup game.
Dockal’s performances for club and country drew Henan’s attention. Last February, the Chinese Super League club paid a reported $9 million transfer fee to acquire him.
At the time, Chinese soccer was in the midst of a global spending spree. Dockal joined stars such as Argentina’s Carlos Tevez, Belgium’s Axel Witsel and Brazil’s Oscar who were lured to China with big money. But soon thereafter, the Chinese government imposed limits on foreign players in the league. In the last year, the glamour has faded away. According to Czech media reports, Dockal and his family wanted to leave China for a different environment.
Dockal recorded four goals and four assists in 23 games in Henan’s 2017 campaign.
If the deal gets done — and it’s worth reiterating here that it isn’t done yet — Dockal won’t have much time to settle in with his new team before the season starts. The campaign will begin March 3 against New England in Chester. It wouldn’t be surprising if Dockal doesn’t play in that game. The midfield reins could to go to youngsters Adam Najem or Anthony Fontana.
The Union won’t play the following weekend, March 10. Their next game will be March 17 against Columbus, also at home. The extra practice time could set Dockal up for a debut in front of fans who’ve waited long enough for a player of his caliber.