It’s official: Philadelphia Union sign Bořek Dočkal

Photo: Philadelphia Union

The wait was long, but Philadelphia Union have found their No. 10.

The Union officially announced the signing of attacking midfielder Bořek Dočkal this morning, just days before the start of the 2018 MLS season.

“When we set out to identify targets for our No. 10 position that would be a good fit within our system and parameters, Borek stood out as a leading candidate from the very beginning,” Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart said. “We believe Bořek has the quality to make everyone around him better. This deal took time and patience to complete and we are excited to welcome him to Philadelphia. We look forward to integrating him with our group as quickly as possible as we turn our attention to the 2018 opener on March 3.”

Philadelphia have acquired the Czech international from Chinese Super League side Henan Jianye on a one-year loan. Sports Invest, Dočkal’s agency, confirmed there will be no option to buy the player after the season.

In a press release from the Union, the club indicated Dočkal will be a Designated Player and occupy an international roster spot. Additionally, the Union have bought down David Accam’s contract with Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), so he will not count as a Designated Player this year. As a result, the Union have one open slot.

It was a slow build to the unveiling of the 29-year-old midfielder. Sport Invest released a statement last Tuesday morning announcing the player was heading to Philadelphia to negotiate a deal. From then until today, issues ranging from the type of sale to work permit issues had to be ironed out. Yesterday, Dočkal was spotted at the Union practice. That seemed to be the final hint that the deal was done.

Before the move to China, Dočkal (pronounced BOHR-ek DOEtsch-CAL) starred for Sparta Prague in the Czech First League. The attacking midfielder recorded 30 goals and 51 assists in 135 games during his time in Prague, spanning from 2013 to 2017. He also excelled in the Europa League, registering the most assists of any player during the 2016-17 competition. With 35 international caps for the Czech Republic, Dočkal brings a wealth of top-level experience.

It remains to be seen how soon Dočkal will be ready to take the field for Philadelphia. Teenage midfielder Anthony Fontana received the bulk of the minutes at the No. 10 in the preseason.

Fittingly, Dočkal will wear the No. 10 shirt, last worn by Roland Alberg and Tranquillo Barnetta.

For more on the signing, check out PSP’s previous posts and follow @phillysoccerpg on Twitter for updates from Jim Curtin’s press conference this afternoon:


  1. Well, I’m excited. But it doesn’t sound like we should be buying a jersey with his name on it. I guess he could refuse to return to China and force them to sell, but that doesn’t mean its to us. If he plays well and something like a bottom-half Bundesliga team wants to pay $5M for him, do we stand a chance? Guess we need to just enjoy the season and hope he wants to stay here so bad he strong arms the parent club.

    • Yeah…. Just because his Chinese team isn’t willing to take a loss now doesn’t mean they won’t listen to offers in 9 months. If they’re convinced he doesn’t want to play for them — sounds likely to be the case — they’ll shop him around for buyers and are likely to find no one willing to pay what they spent.

      In some ways, this works out well for the Union. If he’s good, than the club can make a better assessment of whether or not it wants to invest in another year or two of his services. If he’s not so great…. He’s back to China, or contract Limbo (located somewhere in the South Pacific, I hear).

  2. “there will be no option to buy the player after the season.”
    So a one-year band aid??

  3. I am very happy and excited to see how this all plays out. No ready to again spend the money on tickets gas, food, parking in my drive down from NYC just yet and neither are my 10 friends. Not a fan of the ownership or it’s philosophy. I want this awesome fan base to have the team it so rightly deserves.

  4. Previous reports said that Henan were reluctant to sell him, for whatever reason. I am assuming that’s the reason they didn’t include the option to buy. They want to be able to pull him back if they need to after this season. I don’t think it’s about competition from other other leagues. (Amateur opinion).
    That said…welcome, Borek! We all knew they needed to upgrade, and by all accounts they did. Let’s hope he gets acclimated quickly and this gets moving in the right direction.

    • Nick Fishman says:

      Yep, that’s what I was told. The Chinese side had to be talked into a loan, and were completely unwilling to include an option to buy.

      • The Chinese league is still feeling their way around international transfers. Either pay $200M for an above average player, or be over-protective about a replaceable player.
        (Maybe a little too much cynicism there.)

    • Like many Chinese teams they overpaid for borak and they want to recoup that investment.
      It’ll never happen.

  5. Isn’t Bedoya also a DP? (Article of says Union only have one, unless it means there is still one spot open.)

    • Bedoya
      [Empty Slot]
      With Accam being bought down from DP status, there are only 2 of 3 filled now.

      • how much is Blake getting?

      • That’s the wild card. But I would be a bit surprised if it was DP-level money.
        Rimando at $470K.
        Hamid at $395K.
        Ousted at $379K.
        I think, based on those numbers, that Tim Howard is the only DP keeper in the league.

      • Quick follow-up, since I had to look it up to confirm:
        “In 2017, a Designated Player that is 24-years-old or older during the league year will carry the Maximum Budget Charge ($480,625) unless the player joins his club after the opening of the Secondary Transfer Window, in which case his budget charge will be $240,312.”
        So, if I read that correctly, any salary over 480,625 that is not bought down is considered a DP. Based on last year’s salaries, only Tim Howard is above the threshold.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Factor in the probably effect of TAM/GAM buy downs.
        FRom memory, with my constant caveat about it’s unreliability, Tranquillo Barnetta was receiving compensation comparable to that of Maurice Edu, but was not a Designated Player.

      • I have no basis for this, but I feel like MLS’s valuation of Andre Blake is probably equivalent to Nick Rimando or Bill Hamid. Blake makes more highlight-reel saves, but those two are also in the top echelon of MLS keepers, are long-time MLS vets, and are in the USMNT pool.

      • Yeah, I would say that it’s possible the rate him approximately near their level. But they are below the limit, and he is likely (again, like you, no basis for my guesses) a step below them in salary.
        If they are $370-480, he could be in that range, but likely closer to $320-370.
        Again…I have no info to back this up. Just seems like reasonable market values. Especially since Blake has no leverage with a move to Europe, due to the weird FIFA rules concerning Jamaica not being in the top 50 in the world.

      • I never really understand that argument about a European move for Blake. He is only blocked in moving to England since the rule is a UK work permit rule, not a FIFA or EU rule. There is nothing preventing him from going elsewhere in Europe since those countries have totally different work permit rules than the UK.

      • That’s true. But I believe the main interest in his services came from England. I don’t remember hearing rumors about other leagues. Again…I could be wrong.

  6. Does buying down Accam’s contract with TAM mean they’re cheap, or does it mean they’re open to another DP?

  7. First impressions: Jim Curtin is tall.

  8. el Pachyderm says:

    Funny the clamor for getting a guy in while he has time to train in Florida and get comfortable with his teammates, but the reality is… in a structure such as MLS, one could argue the first 2 months of season don’t mean shit.
    Hell this team was epically bad and still somehow managed to actually have an outside shot by autumn.
    Hang in there, win a few, lose a few, draw a shit ton and by June, this dude is on all cylinders and a push through summer into fall has them climbing table.
    The bar has been raised in my mind. You have a young defense, I’ll stipulate but you also have an outstanding goalie (yes I stipulate despite his flaws) and a strong midfield. speed on the wings and a dirty work goalscorer in CJ.
    now, can the manager manage his toys this season… because it is clear this guy is not a long term solution.

    • Yeah, the roster has no major hole on paper. If the young guys can keep the D together we could have some exciting games. I expect to score a lot more goals this year.

  9. Conflicted.
    By all accounts, seems like a quality player in a position of great need for this team. Also seems to fit the system better then previous signings to fill the role. Also should note, video from the Union shows he speaks very good English and so communication with teammates should not be a problem.
    But reports that this does not have an option to buy is a downer. If he comes in an performs really well, then it is less likely the Union would be able to convince the Chinese club to sell and even less likely they would be able to afford him if they are willing.
    Finally, please, someone who will be at the press conference today ask about the Accam buy-down. Is Blake a DP? Are they using excess funny money that expires this year that they kept in reserve for Dockal but now cannot use since no purchase option? Are they planning another signing?

    • I’m curious about that worst-case scenario of Henan wanting him back. Would MLS get involved to force the move through, since the precedent would be set for the entire league after that, as far as dealing with the CSL? Curious…
      Highly doubt that Blake is a DP, based on the numbers I listed above. Hard to imagine he’s the highest paid goalie in the league, outside of Howard. He’s great, but he’s still young enough not to command that type of money.

      • I think it will depend a lot on how both he and the Union do this season. If he does really well and is a key contributor for the Union in a playoff run, is popular with the fans, and wants to stay in the US, I can see the Union and league wanting to keep him around so as not to alienate Union fans.

        He’s made it clear he has no desire to go back to China, so the only question is whether he will stay here or go back to Europe. I read somewhere that his contract with his Chinese club only runs through the end of next season, so they could lose him for nothing if he REALLY doesn’t want to go back and decides to sit out a year.

      • I agree with all of that. But my main point was independent of the Union. I am curious if MLS wants to make sure other teams don’t have trouble with the CSL, so they might step in and make sure there are no complications.
        Imagine if Henan recalled him from the Union. We’d be annoyed.
        Now imagine if the same situation happened to the Galaxy, or Sounders, or some other favored-child team. There would be an outcry from HQ about the injustice. And that’s only slight hyperbole…
        Like I said, it would just be a matter of precedent. Doesn’t mean the league cares at all about Philly.

  10. Why am I seeing this news. Tell me more about the Levi’s partnership. And what’s going on with our team’s tattoos.

    • OK, I grinned at this one. But…I have to give credit where it is due. They probably shared all they could about this without scuttling the deal. I mean, really, we kind of knew a week ago that it was in the offing..and if you read back in the tea leaves, months ago Curtin mentioned something about the “Asian leagues” being a potential source for a #10. I believe they’ve been working on this guy for a long time, and dribbled out just enough information to not get hopes up in case it fell apart. Now…will it/he pan out? That remains to be seen, as with every single move ever. Hoping so!

    • Spugger you win the internet today for me.

  11. Have to say, although this one is a little late, this offseason has gone pretty well when you step back. We filled our 2 biggest starting holes with DP level players. We got rid of most of the overpayed mid-tier players. We brought up a bunch of youth guys who look to get a lot of minutes this year. I probably would have liked to get 1 more vet player in the D, but I can’t complain about forcing Trusty and Real into minutes either.
    Now who knows if it’s going to be good enough but at least the the correct positions appear to be filled and the roster seems much more balanced than before.

  12. Awesome that they got him. But it seems like a double-edged sword: the better he is this season, the less likely we’ll be able to fork over the $$$ needed to keep him going forward. So, some mixed feelings.

  13. We’ve been waiting for too many years for a legit #10. We just got one who had the most assists in Europa League in 2016/2017!!! SERIOUSLY !!! Combine that with the new and current speed on our wings and the depth of goal scoring players available, this season just got REALLY INTERESTING and it didn’t even start yet. Don’t forget Dockal’s talent for set pieces too. WOOHOO I smell a goal fest for this year… UNION – UNION – UNION – UNION – UNION – UNION – UNION – UNION !!! Start it off with a pasting against NE, say 3-0 or 4-1 !!! GO UNION!!

  14. Welcome Bořek! I hope you have a great year in Philadelphia

  15. I also am conflicted about the no option to buy. Prag said above that the worst case scenario would be he gets called back, but I think that’s the most probable scenario. Maybe Henan is just trying to play hard ball (hopefully). Not gonna bet on it. If it does come down to a bidding war, who really believes the Union will win it. As far as MLS stepping in, what can they really do? Threaten to never buy or sell to the CSL? I guess. Maybe I’m missing something.
    So on to the positive. They got a legitimate #10 woo hoo. Seems Stewart is finally starting to get the MLS formula right. Kudos Ernie. Hopefully Fontana hyper focuses on everything Dockal does and worrying about fighting with Henan becomes moot. I’m definitely getting more excited about the season, but it’s still tempered because it’s the Union and they do Union like things that end badly.
    Jimmy boy, this is your last shot. No more excuses. You have dumped those knives and upgraded to BB-guns or maybe even some .22’s. Use them wisely. Rotate and play the damn kids.

    • Well, Dockal’s current estimated transfer value is 1.44 million pounds, which is just under $2 million. the chinese paid 3.15 million pounds — $4.34 million. Can see why they might not like any offers the Union sent their way. If the club is looking for more than $3 -$4 million, no one’s paying that.

      Good news is that transfer value of his will undoubtedly go down another $500,000 or more after a season with us. So if we like him, he’ll be more affordable. 😀

    • One way to soften the potential blow of Henan calling him back is, as you say, to rotate and play the damn kids. The Union have to get playing time for Najem and/or Fontana. There are, as I recall, at least two stretches of 3 games in 8 days on the schedule. Perfect time for a spot start, in addition to early round US Open Cup matches.
      Of course, given past history I fully expect Dočkal to start every game once he’s deemed fit enough.

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