After not being able to play in the Union's season opener, Czech playmaker Borek Dockal is finally ready to take the field. Expect to see him in Saturday's game against the Columbus Crew at Talen Energy Stadium (2 p.m., 6ABC).
Dockal missed the year's first game in part because he signed with the team just days before it, but also because of a minor ankle injury he had. That was two weeks ago, though, and thanks to last weekend's bye, he had enough time to get back to full fitness.
"Of course I'm excited, and I feel like after a long time finally I had a proper week, a whole week of good training, and I could do a little bit extra to get to my level where I want to be," Dockal said. "I needed to have a good week of training, and I had it, so I'm satisfied. I feel ready to play the game."
Along with shaking off the injury, Dockal has had time to build chemistry with his teammates — especially fellow central midfielders Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. Bedoya likes what he has seen so far.
"He's not like your prototypical No. 10 that's not really willing to do the dirty work," Bedoya said. "He's always wanting the ball, and in all types of spots. In the middle, he comes out wide, and he's always dropping into the little pockets in between the lines. … It's easy to play with guys who are always willing to get the ball, and even if he loses it, he's willing to fight to win it right back straightaway."
Union manager Jim Curtin also likes what he has seen.
"You're starting to see everyone understanding that if there's a guy on his back, you can still give him the ball in a tight spot and he'll get out of it," Curtin said. "He has qualities that a lot of guys on our team don't, in terms of his ability to play a final ball and his ability around the goal. He's been brought here for that quality, and now we have to bring the best out of him."
Curtin hedged on whether Dockal will be a starter Saturday, instead of coming off the bench. Dockal got some game action during the bye when the Union (1-0-0, 3 points) played scrimmages against Bethlehem Steel and the New York Red Bulls' USL team. He hasn't played in an official game since his former Chinese club ended its last season in November.
"It'll be a matter of deciding the minute load," Curtin said.
Of course, that might have been a bluff. Curtin has a history of that, and he's matching wits Saturday with savvy Columbus manager Gregg Berhalter — a potential future U.S. national team head coach.
"I think Gregg Berhalter is the top coach in our league," Curtin said, "His team is one that has a true style."
Columbus should provide a sterner test than New England did two weeks ago. Despite the off-the-field maelstrom created by the team's potential move to Austin, Texas — and despite the off-season losses of striker Ola Kamara and winger Justin Meram — Berhalter's team is in first place in the Eastern Conference. The Crew (2-0-0, 6 points) shocked defending champion Toronto FC, 2-0, in Toronto on opening weekend, then beat the Montreal Impact, 3-2, last Saturday with a 94th-minute penalty kick.
Saturday, 2 p.m. at Talen Energy Stadium
Union's record: 1-0-0, 3 points (4th in the East); 1-0-0 at home
Crew's record: 2-0-0, 6 points (1st in the East); 1-0-0 on the road
Series history: Union 8 wins, Crew 11 wins, 1 tie
At Talen Energy Stadium: Union 6 wins, Crew 4 wins, 0 ties
Columbus players to watch
F Gyasi Zardes: A former U.S. national team phenom, the 26-year-old was largely written off last year for being a straight-line runner with a poor first touch. But he has found new life since being traded in January from the Los Angeles Galaxy, and has three goals so far this season.
M Federico Higuaín: The Argentine playmaker has long been the Crew's heart, and remains their most important attacking player. He delivered nine goals and 14 assists last year, and already has two goals this year.