There were plenty of expectations for Ben Olsen and DC United coming into this season as the team was finally expected to turn around their bad form of the last few seasons and contend for a playoff spot. And through the first third of the season those expectations have been met, even exceeded, as the Black and Red are in second place in the Eastern Conference. Much of that success, however, has come without DC’s three highest paid players on the field.
Reigning MVP Dwayne De Rosario has been leading United all year. Off-season acquisition Hamdi Salihi took some time to find his footing in MLS, but has delivered four goals in the last five games and looks poised to go on a scoring tear.
That leaves the final piece of the puzzle Branko Boskovic. Brought in before the 2010 season as a designated player Boskovic has largely failed to live up to his lofty salary after missing most of last season with a torn ACL. With his contract set to expire in June it appeared that the midfielder’s time was running out in Washington.
But forced into the starting lineup against Colorado last week because of injuries, Boskovic delivered his best performance in a long time. Playing as an attacking midfielder he helped DC complete 82% percent of their passes while keeping 47.6% possession against one of the best possession teams in MLS. Two weeks ago in the game against Toronto Boskovic completed 26 of 30 passes and assisted on the team’s first goal with a beautiful free kick that was headed in by De Rosario. Perhaps even more importantly Boskovic played 73 and 75 minutes in the two games hopefully signaling that he’s creeping closer to full fitness.
Of course, due to his injury and increasing age (Boskovic turns 32 next month), even a return to full fitness probably won’t see Boskovic return to the player he was when DC signed him: a dynamic attacking midfielder who scored highlight reel goals for the likes of Red Star Belgrade and Rapid Wien. But he still possesses plenty of skills that can make him an effective player for DC. Against both Colorado and Toronto Boskovic displayed great touch, accurate passing and confidence on the ball. Against Toronto coach Ben Olsen switched from a 4-4-2 diamond to a 4-2-3-1 with De Rosario underneath Salihi and Boskovic together in the midfield with Perry Kitchen. The move worked perfectly and allowed United to dominate possession the rest of the game.
DC United is very good this year, but if they have one weakness it’s their lack of a true “timekeeper” in the midfield, someone who can control the game and dictate tempo. Perry Kitchen is quickly developing into one of the best midfield destroyers in the league, but offensively he’s a non-factor. Kitchen’s reluctance to go forward leaves De Rosario as the main midfield distributor, forcing him to drop deep into his own half to pick up the ball and start the attack. Boskovic solves this problem by acting as a true number 8, a hub player, providing the link between the defense and the attack. This allows Kitchen to sit deep while De Rosario stays higher up the pitch where he’s most dangerous.
It still remains to be seen whether DC United will resign Boskovic, but the way he’s played the last two games certainly can’t hurt his case. Most importantly, people who know the midfielder best say that he’s disappointed with his time in MLS and that he wants another opportunity to prove he can cut it at this level. A strong performance against rival New England today would go a long way to showing DC’s front office that he’s worth taking one more chance on.