New No. 10 Borek Dockal ready to help Philadelphia Union right away

CHESTER, Pa. — One of the first things Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin said to prized new Designated Player Borek Dockal was that he doesn’t need to feel any pressure.

Sure, the Czech playmaker is filling a vital need that the Union have had for more than a year, at a pivotal time in the franchise’s history. But the pressure, Curtin said, falls on the “technical staff, the coaches and the players to make the transition as smooth as possible” for Dockal, who was acquired Wednesday on loan from Chinese club Henan Jianye, just three days before the 2018 season kicks off.

“It’s funny, his response to that was, ‘I want the pressure,’” Curtin said during his weekly press conference Wednesday. “Which kind of made me go, ‘OK.’ He flipped it on me.”

The conversation reminded Curtin of Tranquillo Barnetta, another determined attacking midfielder with an international pedigree who starred for the Union in 2015 and 2016, before his departure created a void in the No. 10 spot that the club has since been striving to fill.

After Roland Alberg and Ilsinho platooned at the position last year to varying degrees of success, Union sporting director Earnie Stewart set out in the offseason to find a DP-caliber No. 10, along with an impact winger.

Trading for David Accam was the first step. Acquiring Dockal made Stewart’s offseason wish list complete.

“To sign these two players is tremendous,” the Union sporting director said. “We’re adding quality players to the squad. What we identified last year was we spoke about difference-makers. I think David Accam has already proven that … and now we’ve added a Czech international who’s been through the ropes left and right and knows what it is to be a professional and to deliver.”

David Accam greeted by Union fans at the airport | Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

The Union now enter the 2018 season with a veteran midfield triangle that includes three players that have worn the captain’s armband for their country — Dockal with the Czech Republic, Haris Medunjanin with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Alejandro Bedoya with the US national team.

Curtin hopes that success trickles down to the young players, including Homegrown attacking midfielders Anthony Fontana and Adam Najem, and that Dockal’s inclusion in the lineup raises everyone’s game as intended.

“To sign a player that makes all the individuals around him better, which is what a true No. 10 does, is something that we’ve needed, and something that we now have,” Curtin said. “When you add a piece like this, it adds to what CJ Sapong does, it adds to what David Accam does, it improves Fafa [Picault], it improves Ale Bedoya, it makes it so Haris now, when he plays through the lines with his incredible passing ability, it’s to a guy who can turn in a tight window in a pocket of space and make the final pass.

“This is a guy who has done it in the Champions League environment, has done it in the national team environment as a captain, and we’re excited to work with him.”

Although he was just signed Wednesday, Dockal had been training with the club toward the end of the preseason as negotiations dragged on (they were so complex that Curtin said he probably only knew “30 percent of the things on the deal") and gotten familiar with his new teammates. But because he has a minor ankle injury and was out of the country Wednesday to tie up some loose ends, it seems unlikely he’ll make his MLS debut when the Union open the season Saturday vs. New England (7 pm ET).

Unless, of course, the steadfast new DP gets his way.

“He wants to play a role in the match this weekend vs. New England,” Curtin said. “But we have to do what’s best.”