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Raves: Borek Dockal, the playmaker you waited for

Photo: Earl Gardner

Editor’s note: This is part of a PSP series titled, “Raves,” in which PSP writers take a break from critical analysis and straight reporting to rave about a particular person from the Philadelphia soccer scene. For more about the series, read the introduction here. To read all posts in the Raves series, click here.

My name is Josef Svoboda. A few minutes ago, it was 1989, and I was in Wenceslas Square in Prague as the singer Marta Kubisova sang “Prayer for Marta.” I do not know if it was her beautiful voice or the euphoria of escaping communism, but I have time-traveled to 2018 to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

After vomiting in the gutter for approximately five minutes, I take note that I am standing outside a pub, The 700. A man who looks like Jan Palach staggers out of the pub. He wears a Bimbo jersey and says, “U-N-I-O-N!!! Hey, bro, you all right?”

“Adjusting to the reality of my surroundings.”

“That’s a punk-as-Fopp accent you got there, hoss. Where you from?”


“In the Czech Republic?”

My eyelids flutter. “Yes.”

“W-H-A-A-A-T!!!” He spins 360 degrees on his right foot’s Chuck Taylor high-top heel. “That’s where my favorite Union player is from. Borek Dockal. Every hear of him?”

“I am not much of a football fan.”

“Dude, ya gotta check him out. Dockal’s my dawg! He’s on your national team and used to be on Sparta Prague.”

I nod. I am mentally transcribing this conversation to record later in my travel log. Thanks to my strict instructors at engineering university, I have an excellent memory. (Of course, I am omitting this gentleman’s profanity. He is quite fond of the F word.)

“Lemme tell you about Dockal.” He mispronounces the name again.

“He is the bomb! We’ve been in desperate need of a No. 10 ever since we lost Barnetta a couple years ago. We’ve been floundering like Sugarman’s real estate portfolio. Fortunately, our front office came through with a Hail Mary pass at the last minute.”

He leaps on top of a fire hydrant. Balancing on one foot, he pumps a fist in the air. “Earnie, Earnie! Albright, Albright!” He returns to the sidewalk. “That’s Earnie Stewart and Chris Albright, two cats in the Union’s FO. They signed Borek” — pronounced correctly — “in the eleventh hour. I was pumped. I wasn’t gonna renew my season tickets ’cause 2017 was about as much fun as paying my Comcast bill.” He turns his head, cups his hands around his mouth, and says, “You suck, Comcast! Bring back beIN!”

I sense myself smirking. I erase it off my face.

“Anyway, it took Dockal a little while to get started. In his defense, he didn’t really have a preseason, since they signed him in February. I mean, it wasn’t until his fourth game in April against San Jose when he got an assist and his seventh game against D.C. when he netted his first goal. That’s still pretty good. I mean, it takes a while to adjust to a new league. I think it took Dempsey and Henry a lot longer than that to be productive. Yo, bro, why you lookin’ at me like that? I don’t have those stats. All I care about is the Union.”

He then does a handstand and spells out the Union’s name one hand at a time. Upon returning to his feet, he places his palms over his stomach. “Whoa.” He then pounds a fist on his chest. “Philly tough, ain’t gonna throw up.” Instead, he belches.

“Anyhoo, look at him now. He’s got five goals and 15 freaking” — he doesn’t say freaking — “assists. That’s No. 1 in the league! Take that, Giovinco!!

“Oh, oh, oh! And you know what’s awesome about Dockal? His passing. I’ll, like, be watching, and I’ll say to myself, he’s gonna pass it to Medunjanin, then — BOOM! — he surprises me and passes it to Gaddis. You know, back in March, when his passes weren’t connecting, I wondered if he was playing at too high of a level for most of his teammates.” He shrugs. “Dunno if he dumbed down his game or if Curtin and crew brought everyone else up to speed. Whatever, it’s working.

“You know what else is cool about him? He seems like a team player. He comes across as genuine in congratulating other Union players when they score. And when there was that fiasco down in Atlanta, he came off the field willingly and wasn’t scowling like how Jack Mac used to when being subbed off.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. He’s bad at defense. I’ll give you that, but I do like how he knows when to pass the ball before gettin’ tackled. And that Orlando game doesn’t count! That Higuita should’ve been red-carded for three games. No, for the rest of the season!” He shakes his head. “I hate that Higuita. If he hadn’t injured Dockal, we probably would’ve won. Dockal’s the engine of the team. He helps get the ball closer to goal.”

Suddenly, he claps his palms together.

“You know what? This was a good talk. I’m glad you stopped me to chat. Nice talking to ya. Now I gotta go to work. C’mon, bring it in like two middleagers trying to be hip. Fist bump.”

I do my best to participate in his “fist bump.” I believe I succeed because, when our fists touch, his fingers straighten and he makes a sound like fireworks.

“See ya down in Chester, cuz,” he says, jaywalking. Cars honk at him. He answers the screeching tires with an arm gesture.

I assume Chester is where the Union play. If I stay in this time long enough, maybe I will go see a game there. I have lived through communism, Chester cannot be any worse, can it?



  2. It is worth punctuating the point that he leads the league in assists while playing for one of the weakest offensive teams in MLS.

    Can you imagine how many assists this guy would have if he were playing for one of the LA or NY squads??

  3. Imagine how many assists he would have if we didn’t spend half the season with CJ starting up top while buried in the deepest of funks.

  4. Jan Palach
    There is no way John Osborn would remember who Jan Palach is. John is not my age, and he did not write his undergraduate senior thesis in History in 1971 on the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in August of 1968.
    On January 19, 1969 Palach publicly burned himself to death protesting the invasion and the subsequent occupation. His grave became a shrine of sorts, the communist government removed his body and cremated it, but since the fall of communism his ashes have been returned to a memorial outside of a prominent museum in Prague.

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