Union midfielder Borek Dockal flew more than 10,000 miles round-trip to play for the Czech Republic national team in the last week and a half. But as he made his way through the Union's practice facility Thursday, he looked fresh and ready for the team's final charge to the playoffs.
"I slept almost the whole flight back to Philly, and last night here was OK," he said. "So it's not bad. I'm used to it."
One of the highlights of his time away was seeing himself depicted as a cartoon figure in a Captain America costume on the back page of one of Prague's biggest newspapers. It was a tribute to Dockal's being named captain for the Czech team's UEFA Nations League games at Slovakia and Ukraine.
"A funny thing," he said. "It was definitely a pleasure to be the captain."
Dockal assisted on both goals in Saturday's 2-1 win at Slovakia. It was the Czechs' first win in a competitive game since Oct. 8 last year, a World Cup qualifier against lowly San Marino.
On Tuesday, the Czechs lost, 1-0, to Ukraine in a game with almost as many fouls as shots. But while that game was sour, the sweet taste of beating an old rival stuck around.
"That was a really good feeling. … It's a little bit special of a game to play against them," Dockal said. "And it's actually the first time, I think, that they have a little bit more quality in the team than we have. They have players in really big teams in Europe."
He wasn't kidding. Slovakia had the game's biggest star, Napoli's Marek Hamsik, and other players from Newcastle United, Inter Milan, and Hertha Berlin. And of course, it had home-field advantage.
Dockal's 37 caps made him the second-most experienced player on the Czech squad, trailing only Werder Bremen defender Theodor Gebre Selassie's 50. Patrick Schick, a 22-year-old striker who scored the winner at Slovakia, is a backup at AS Roma.
Czech legends like Pavel Nedved, Peter Cech, Jan Koller, and Tomas Rosicky are long gone.
"That was maybe the first time that we haven't been the favorites," Dockal said.
Dockal's team might be the underdog again Sunday when the Union host the second-place New York Red Bulls. But he will have home-field advantage this time, and if the Union win, they'll likely get it again in the first round of the playoffs.
"The best possible way to prepare for the playoffs," Dockal said. "We know how they play: We know they are a really solid team, they play good tactically, they stay compact. … I feel like we have a good chance to beat them."