CHESTER, Pa. — Philadelphia Union midfielder Bořek Dočkal has been waiting all season to join back up with the Czech Republic national team.
The process to get on the roster for the October UEFA Nations League games against Slovakia and Ukraine was a frustrating one at times, but also took Dočkal’s best interest into account.
The 30-year-old has 35 caps to his name, but the opportunity to earn his first international appearance of 2018 had to wait until October.
Dočkal and the Czech federation have had an ongoing dialog throughout the Major League Soccer season, starting in March, when it was decided in his best interest to skip the matches with Uruguay and China so he could healthy and acclimate to the Union, which he joined a month earlier.
“They wanted to give me time to settle down here and start to play the games after a long preseason,” Dočkal said.“I was actually in touch with them the whole time because the first time was when I first came here. I got hurt with my ankle and I was just about to start the season here.”
The next opportunity for Dočkal to travel to eastern Europe came in June, when the Czechs took on Australia and Nigeria, but since the games overlapped with matches against Atlanta United and Toronto FC, Dočkal remained with the Union.
“I missed the two friendly games we played in the summer because we still had a season here,” Dočkal said. “So it would be pointless to travel many hours in friendly games instead of playing the league games.”
Everything seemed to be set up perfectly for Dočkal to join the Czech squad in September, but an ankle injury suffered the day before his flight to Europe squashed that trip overseas.
“Unfortunately, I got hurt the day before I was supposed to travel last time, so I was sad about it,” Dočkal said. “I was actually looking forward to seeing my friends again and playing for my country.”
Not only was Dočkal frustrated about missing out on matches with Ukraine and Russia, he felt the pain of working back into a rhythm, which can be a lonely process for any injured player.
“The frustrating thing was I knew what was going to follow,” Dočkal said. “The whole process, the individual trainings and the feeling that I hate the most is to be on the field and not be 100 percent. Now, finally, I feel much better and almost back to normal.”
Fresh off recording his 16th and 17th assists of the season and setting a single-season club record in the process, Dočkal is traveling to Europe for clashes with Slovakia and Ukraine on Oct. 13 and 16, respectively.
Dočkal’s quality has been on display for most of the season, as he’s turned into the playmaker the Union demanded out of the No. 10 position.
The 30-year-old formed chemistry with the other two central midfielders in the starting XI, Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya. That connection has the Union excited for the prospects of a playoff push after clinching a postseason position Saturday with a convincing 5-1 win over Minnesota United.
The loan move for Dočkal from Henan Jianye in the Chinese Super League turned out to be a great deal for Dočkal and the Union, and because of the comfort he finds in the team’s style of play, Dočkal is back to playing at the sport’s highest level.
“I think, for me, the more games I’m going to play, the better I’m going to feel,” Dočkal said. “What helped me a lot is the way that we play, how we try to possess the ball and try to control the games and get me on the ball a lot, which gives me the confidence in the game. Because the more confidence I have in the games, the more comfortable I feel.”