It's safe to say that Borek Dockal's MLS career got off to a slow start.
Arriving in Philadelphia on loan from Chinese side Henan Jianye over the winter with a key playmaking role and hefty salary tag hoisted onto his shoulders, it took the Czech three games to notch his first assist or shot on goal and six games to bag his first goal – and he didn't find another one until his 10th start.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Union went 3-5-2 in those first 10 games of his, leaving their fans with the sinking feeling that 2018 would be another rough year along the shores of the Delaware River – and exposing Dockal to no small amount of criticism, not least of which came from MLSsoccer.com’s Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle and contributor Bobby Warshaw, who in late April suggested that Philadelphia trade for NYCFC’s Tommy McNamara to provide the creative impetus that Dockal was not conjuring up.
Things are now looking dramatically different for both the player and his team. Dockal was the star of the show on Saturday as Philly stylishly put the Vancouver Whitecaps to the sword at Talen Energy Stadium, scoring two goals in a 4-0 thrashing that the flustered ‘Caps finished with nine men. He also produced five key passes and only failed to connect six passes in all.
The former Sparta Prague playmaker has now scored five goals and six assists in 1,208 league minutes this season, a productive rate of 0.82 goals or assists every 90 minutes, helping the Union climb above the playoff line – at least for now, pending Orlando’s and Chicago’s results on Saturday night – in the Eastern Conference.
"For the first time maybe this season, I felt like we had for control for like 90 minutes," said Dockal, who Union head coach Jim Curtin revealed is welcoming a new baby into his family this week, postgame. "Usually we make it difficult in the second half with a stupid goal we concede. This time we had full control the full game. I think the first half was one of the best halves we've played so far this season."
Philadelphia are now 4-2-1 in their last seven games, and Dockal appears to have found his footing in MLS, contributing quality movement, vision and finishing acumen to spark the Philly attack.
According to Opta’s statistics, he ranks in the top 10 in the league in three notable categories: chances created per 90, chances created from open play per 90 minutes and expected assists. Only three other creators in MLS can say the same: FC Dallas’ Mauro Diaz, in-form New England Homegrown Diego Fagundez and LAFC target man Marco Ureña.