CHESTER, Pa. — Borek Dockal is having a moment.
One week after he recorded two assists to vault into the MLS assist lead with 17, and propel the Philadelphia Union to a playoff-clinching romp over Minnesota United, Dockal added another two helpers while donning the captain’s armband for the Czech Republic national team.
But it’s probably fair to say he doesn’t carry the same level of name recognition as other MLS players who star for club and country.
As his first season in MLS winds down, and he looks to lead the Union to the franchise’s first-ever playoff win, here are 10 Things to know about the Philadelphia playmaker.
National team stalwart
After returning to Philly from 2018-19 UEFA Nations League games vs. Slovakia and Ukraine, Dockal has now made 37 caps for the Czech Republic in an international career that began in early 2013.
His favorite moment? That happened in 2014 when, just a couple of month after Netherlands stormed to a third-place finish at the World Cup, Dockal scored a goal in a huge 2-1 upset of the Dutch in a Euro 2016 qualifier.
“That was in a full stadium,” Dockal told MLSsoccer.com, “and was a really special game.”
Dockal was part of the Czech squad at Euro 2016, played in qualification matches ahead of the 2018 World Cup, and this week made his return to the national team after a one-year absence. He was even dubbed “Captain America” by a Czech newspaper.
A quiet leader
Even though anyone who wears the armband for his country certainly has leadership qualities, Dockal can be quiet and reserved.
For Union head coach Jim Curtin, however, Dockal’s influence shines through in other ways.
“He’s an incredible leader in our locker room,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy who leads by example but does talk to guys, helps younger players. He’s had an exceptional season for us as a No. 10. And with a new coach for Czech Republic, it shows what kind of quality he has that he’s the guy they go to the put the armband on.
“He’s a class player and a class person.”
Lover of Prague
Dockal grew up in Městec Králové, a small city outside Prague, but used soccer as a vehicle to visit the Czech capital often as a kid. Dockal says he first began training at Slavia Prague when he was about 9 years old.
“I was still a little kid so the deal was I’d train with my team in my city and go to train one day a week and play games with the team in Prague,” Dockal said. “The older I was, the more days I’d keep going to Prague. I was like 14 when I did the whole-week sessions in Prague. My parents still wanted to have some control and make sure I studied well and didn’t do stupid things.”
Dockal’s senior career launched as a teenager for Slavia Prague and he later returned to play for Sparta Prague from 2013-2017, all while continuing to fall in love with the historic city.
“The more time I spend abroad, the more I appreciate the city,” he said. “I think Prague is amazing. We have everything we need, it’s not that expensive. I love Prague. I definitely want to live there with my family one day.”
In addition to the time spent in his native country, Dockal has also played professionally in Turkey, Norway and China, before arriving in the United States this past winter.
Dockal said the difference between the leagues in Europe is “not that big,” but he experienced a culture shock during his stint with Chinese Super League club Henan Jianye last year.
Adjusting to life in China off the field was difficult but perhaps even more daunting was trying to live up to the expectations of being one of only three allotted foreigners on the field.
“Everyone expects you to make the difference and many times they don’t even want you to pass the ball; they just want you to do it on your own and decide the games,” Dockal said. “If you look at the stats, like 90 percent of the goals are scored by foreign players. I’m a team player. I always play like I need my teammates to do the runs and give them passes. In China, it was difficult for me because you’re just expected to do it on your own.”
With more than 100 assists in his career, Dockal has always prided himself on providing for his teammates, registering a 20-assist season en route to a league title for Sparta Prague in 2013-14.
Having already set the Union single-season record for assists (which was previously held by Cristian Maidana at 16), Dockal now has a chance to win the MLS assist crown, currently leading Luciano Acosta by one and Maximiliano Moralez by two.
Not that a team-first guy like me is thinking much about that.
“Of course it would be nice but it’s not something I’m focusing on” he said. “I’m here to succeed with the team.”
Natural No. 10
When the Union made Dockal the highest-paid player in club history this past offseason, they hoped he would solve their needs at the No. 10, a position they’ve often struggled to effectively fill.
That came as a welcome challenge for Dockal, who loves the freedom that comes from playing in that spot, even though he’s also spent some time on the right wing throughout his career.
“I think that was always my best position,” he said. “If I could choose, I’d always play the No. 10.”
Dockal has some skills away from the field, too. As a kid, he spent a lot of time fishing with his dad — and it’s a hobby he’s maintained ever since.
“I was always excited to catch a big fish,” he said. “I could spend a lot of hours just to wait for one.”
How big was his biggest?
Apologizing for not knowing the conversion from the metric system, Dockal said it was about “one meter” — which, without getting out a conversion chart, is really freaking big.
Offseason ice hockey
Dockal also played basketball and ice hockey growing up.
Compared to Americans, he said he’s not “good enough in basketball.” But he’s still pretty good at ice hockey, one of the most popular sports in the Czech Republic.
He plans to find a good place to play after the MLS season (and is excited to attend a Philadelphia Flyers game as a fan this Saturday).
“Even now, after a season, it’s one of the best things I can do to keep up my fitness level,” he said.
Dockal and his wife welcomed the couple’s second child in June, and the Union midfielder spends most of his time these days doing dad things.
Yes, that includes playing soccer with his oldest son, who turns 5 in January and recently began playing a bit over at the Union’s youth complex at YSC Academy.
“I finish my session here, then go home and have another session with him,” Dockal said. “He just wants to kick the ball.”
Dockal added that he was proud of his son for being “very brave” and “never complaining” about moving to the U.S., even thought it was hard on him not speaking English at first.
As for the infant, “he’s always sleeping and always in a great mood!”
Since he’s on a one-year loan from Henan Jianye, Dockal is pragmatic when discussing his future, admitting the Chinese club has the control and it’s “not in my hands.”
That said, he’s been happy with how he’s settled in with the Union and in Philadelphia with his family, after a rocky first couple of months on both fronts.
“I have definitely had a good year,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed playing here. And i think we still have a good chance to make history for the club — because I believe this team is strong enough to play more than one playoff game.”