The Union have gone two straight games without scoring a goal, and haven’t been generating many chances to score either.
There have been no shots on target from inside the 18-yard box during Borek Dockal’s 159 minutes on the field so far. According to soccer statistics website WhoScored.com, Dockal ranks 10th on the team in key passes per game, a widely-used metric for judging the scoring chances a player creates (whether or or not they lead to shots or goals.)
In Saturday’s 3-0 loss at Colorado, three of the Union’s four recorded shots on goal came after Dockal was substituted out of the game in the 82nd minute.
The sample size is small, of course, Maybe too small to make big judgments about. The Union have played just three games in their 34-game regular season, and Dockal has played in just two of them.
But the optics are jarring. A team’s top playmaker shouldn’t be that far down the chance creation chart.
Dockal admitted Tuesday that he isn’t playing at the level he wants to.
“I still feel like there is a lot of room [for me] to improve, to be better, to give more to the team, to be more involved in a game,” he said. “I’m trying to use every session, every game, to get to my level and to be an important player.”
Asked if he feels he has settled into the Union’s offense yet, the Czech Republic native said, “Not fully, for sure. But I’ve only played two games, so I didn’t expect to be fully [settled].”
It doesn’t help that Dockal only joined the team in the last days of preseason training, and was dealing with a minor ankle injury when he arrived. But he has seen enough of his team and its opponents to know that when he’s on the field, he has to go at full throttle.
“Many games I’ve seen are up-and-down, and teams are leading 2-0 and then in 10 minutes everything is just completely different and the game is open again,” he said. “That’s a little bit typical in MLS.”
It is indeed. Just look at Saturday’s games around MLS.
The Union played one of their most aesthetically pleasing halves of soccer in a while in the first 45 minutes at Colorado, then gave up three goals in the second 45. Orlando City scored early on the New York Red Bulls, then trailed 2-1, led 3-2, conceded in the 82nd, and won 4-3 in the 88th.
Most famously, the Los Angeles Galaxy came back from 3-0 down to beat crosstown rival LAFC. Mexican star Carlos Vela’s early goals were all but forgotten after Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late heroics.
Things should get better for the Union this week now that Fafa Picault’s three-game suspension is over. He’ll bring more pace to the attack, and a bit more class on the right wing than Fabian Herbers has provided. That in turn should force opposing defenses to space out more, instead of picking on Dockal and left winger David Accam. Both players have been jammed repeatedly this year by opponents, which has affected the Union’s attack as a whole.
“That’s something we need in a game — to have speed on the sides, to be dangerous behind the [opposing] back four, to try to make the runs,” Dockal said. “Then the back four needs to drop down a little bit, and then it opens space for me or for central midfielders. That’s something that can change our game and improve our game.”