After spending nearly a week with the Union waiting for all the paperwork to get finished, Czech midfielder Borek Dockal officially joined the team Wednesday. The deal is a one-year loan, and he counts as a Designated Player on the roster.
Team staff didn't hide from that reality, but all they could say was that negotiations were ongoing. A key reason was that Dockal was under contract with Chinese Super League club Henan Jianye, which he played for since last February. Too much loose talk not only could have scuttled the move but could have made the Union guilty of tampering.
Now, it's finally done.
Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said it took "a little bit of patience" for him and the Union's scouts to seal the deal. Henan Jianye didn't want to give up Dockal, in part because it had spent $9 million to acquire him from Czech power Sparta Prague. But Dockal wanted to leave China, and he found the Union an appealing destination.
Stewart said the loan arrangement was "the best deal that we could make."
Dockal's official introduction will come later in the week; he's out of town for personal matters. He probably won't play in Saturday's season opener against the New England Revolution (7 p.m., PHL17). With a bye week after that, the March 17 home game against Columbus seems the likely target for a debut.
Stewart acknowledged the pressure the Union were under to sign a midfield playmaker, thanks in part to their repeated admissions last year that they needed a big-ticket signing at the position.
"Once you say those things, people expect you to deliver on them," Stewart said.
The Union have indeed delivered. Dockal's resume includes 35 games and six goals for the Czech national team, and a four-year tenure with Sparta Prague that included 30 goals and 51 assists in 135 games. During his tenure in China, he had four goals and five assists in 23 games.
"To sign a player that makes all the individuals around him better, which is what a true No. 10 does, is something that yeah, we've needed, and now we have," manager Jim Curtin said.
While Dockal was at Sparta, he briefly was teammates with Union winger Fafa Picault. Although Picault was in Prague for only about six months, the men didn't forget about each other.
"We've known each other for about three years now," Picault said. "He's a good passer, shoots pretty well, plays with both feet."
That connection will help Dockal fit in. But, as Stewart said, Dockal's talent will help even more.
"Good players know good players," Stewart said. "Once they step on the field with each other, the transition usually happens very quickly."
The Union made two small moves with salary-cap space on Wednesday. They used some targeted allocation money to pay down winger David Accam's cap hit so that he will no longer count as a Designated Player. That opens up a DP spot on their roster.
That spending came from MLS' new "discretionary" pool of targeted allocation money. The funds are available to clubs that effectively purchase the cap space out of their own bank accounts. Each team in MLS can buy up to $2.8 million in "discretionary" TAM this year, and a further $2.8 million this year.
This year's DP threshold is expected to be just over $500,000. Accam's base salary last year was $750,000, with a guaranteed compensation figure of $820,937.50. He signed a new contract before the Union acquired him from the Chicago Fire in a January trade, so he's likely getting a raise this year. The Union won't release the amount of allocation money they purchased, but it's probably around $350,000 to $400,000.
Some of that cash may have come from the Union not having to pay the MLS-mandated $150,000 fee to have three DPs on the roster above age 23. The first two come without that charge. If the Union keep just two DPs all the way through the season, they'll get some extra general allocation money — usable on the entire roster — at the end of this year, for the 2019 season. The check will come from the pot of money paid into by teams with three DPs above age 23. If a third DP is younger than that, there is no charge.
In short: The Union clearly spent more to buy down Accam's cap hit than they saved by doing it.