The Union Finally Filled their Biggest Roster Hole

Photo Credit: Kylie Willet, Philadelphia Union

If this were Jeopardy, we’d frame the issue like this:

Alex Trebek: Production at this position has eluded the Philadelphia Union since the departure of Tranquillo Barnetta in 2016. 

Contestant: What is attacking midfielder?

Alex Trebek: Please be more specific.

Contestant: Uh.. what is the #10 position in a 4-2-3-1 formation?

Alex Trebek: That’s correct!

Contestant: Ok. I’ll take Major League Soccer for $800, thank you. 

It took awhile, but it looks like the Union finally have an experienced and legitimate #10 heading into Saturday’s season opener.

29-year-old Bořek Dočkal was officially added as a designated player this morning, on loan from Henan Jianye in the Chinese league. He’s a Czech Republic international with a ton of experience playing European football, as I wrote about awhile back.

The simplest of takes is that this guy theoretically fills a void that could not be covered by:

  1. Alejandro Bedoya, who simply is not a #10. He said so himself after the Union tried using him in that spot to begin the 2017 campaign
  2. Roland Alberg, who was a volume goal scorer and more of a withdrawn/second striker, a guy whose desire and attitude did not seem to match his high level of natural talent and skill
  3. Ilsinho, who was a a lifelong winger and lacked the finishing touch to be more than a serviceable CAM
  4. Fabian Herbers, who I kind of liked as a #10 in a few games back in 2016… before he went back to the wing, then got hurt
  5. Adam Najem, who will get some minutes there this year but isn’t ready quite yet. He’ll continue to learn the position and grow into a legit MLS player alongside fellow homegrown Anthony Fontana

If you watched the U back in 2016, you know how big of a role Barnetta played, an experienced veteran with loads of high-level experience who knew how to press and seemed to get better as the game went on. He was less of a crafty South American-styled CAM and more of a “volume 10,” a guy who won’t carve you up with clinical through balls but one who gets a load of final third touches and serves up excellent crosses and set pieces.

Dockal still has to finish up some paperwork and he didn’t play in any Union preseason games. He’s dealing with a small ankle injury and seems doubtful to appear on Saturday, but maybe he’ll be ready for week two. It’s just one of those things you deal with in MLS, guys coming in near the end of the winter transfer window.

He does speak English and has played meaningful minutes overseas, not just in China but also in Norway when he spent a couple of years with Rosenborg, plus a brief loan spell in Turkey. Every player on the roster now speaks English, including Ilsinho, who began doing interviews in our language last season.

Another random note is that Dockal joins a city that already features four Czech athletes, and they all play for the Flyers: Radko Gudas, Jake Voracek, Petr Mrazek, and Michal Neuvirth. It might sound corny, but sometimes foreign athletes acclimate to new places in a smoother way when they have other ex-pats to talk to and spend time with. Barnetta, a Switzerland native, was close with Mark Streit:

Anyway, if you’re a casual fan or a “four for four” type, the Dockal signing means the Union will be a lot more interesting in attacking scenarios this season. They’ve lacked this type of player for awhile, and I’d equate it to the Sixers adding a creative point guard who makes his teammates better with vision and passing, or maybe the Flyers adding a Brent Burns type of guy who can control the puck and dish out assists (ala Shayne Gostisbehere).

Here’s some recent video of Dockal playing in China. There’s some good stuff and bad stuff in here, so it’s more accurate than just finding a highlight reel of goals and assists:

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14 Responses

  1. Bedoya said he wasn’t a 10. So now they want him to be a 6?
    at this point, wouldn’t he be best on the wing??

    1. he’s technically the 8, just looks kind of funky since Medunjanin is ball-dominant as a regista

  2. Can’t get that excited by it, since everything sounds like the Chinese club wants him back. I guess it could be like the Carlos Valdes scenario where we arethe greener pasture and Dockal forces a move, but this just feels like a “killing time to placate the fans” move and not part of any kind of bigger picture.

  3. Good job CB covering the phillies CB!

    But hey man the Union is real big in philly so i can see the priority here.
    They are #15…right after plastic milk crate pickup basketball.

    1. Bob is the Phillies guy. Russ and Anthony are good with baseball, too. I can write about it but I don’t know anything about MLB.

      1. Maybe you can learn.
        Can’t hurt to put that on your resume.
        It looks like who ever “bob’s” boss is needs to crack the whip or quit.
        You can’t do any worse than what CB is “putting out” on the phillies now. which is nothing.
        You can’t do worse than nothing. Your obvioulsy know stuff about other sports.

        Its shame that Kyle ran Leslie Gudel off.
        She had some decent articles.
        Maybe you guys can convince Kyle to fire himself….or just relegate him to fake shirt duty.

  4. Worried about his defensive ability to be part of the pressing system it seems Curtin wants to roll out this year, but definitely a BIG step up from Ilsinho.

    Hopefully, Fontana can still get some minutes and take the reigns next year (as it looks like Najem as fallen to third on the depth chart).

    Any thoughts on there being no option to buy??

    1. well hopefully if he goes back to China next year you’re comfortable enough with Fontana or Najem taking the reigns, otherwise I think you gotta go to South America and follow the Atlanta path to prosperity

  5. You don’t seriously plan to keep posting anything about this clown soccer league and team on a regular basis do you? There are already enough noise articles posted daily to sift through to find something worth reading, this will just add to the clutter.

  6. What is the MLS? Is that like an American soccer team? Who watched soccer in the US? Besides femmed out dude that get no pussy ?

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