WASHINGTON – Every passing day seems to further complicate Branko Bošković's future with D.C. United.
Bošković himself has spurred on most of the problems with his contract set to expire at the end of the month. His form over the past three games has showed why United decided to bring him in on a Designated Player deal from Rapid Wien two years ago. In short, he has looked like a potentially significant contributor for a team with significant playoff aspirations in tow.
Under normal circumstances in a league without salary budget restrictions in place, it would seem fairly straightforward to offer Bošković fresh terms for six or 12 months to keep him around for the business end of the campaign. But the strictures in MLS ensure this saga remains a complex one for a club that developed a new identity during Bošković's extended absence last season and evolved in a way that makes utilizing his talents somewhat difficult.
Make no mistake: the 31-year-old midfielder offers plenty to a MLS team. His display during the first half of United's 3-2 victory over New England on Saturday night served as an appropriate summation of his range of qualities. A deft piece of service from a free kick set up Brandon McDonald's opener, while his clever movement in midfield always seemed to place him into pockets of space where he could latch onto the ball and move it onwards.
“I think you have to give a lot of credit to Branko [Bošković],” McDonald told reporters about United's victory. “The games that he has been in, he has come in and done what he needed to do. His service has been unbelievable.”
While Bošković's quality on the ball and his vision aren't in question, his place within United's current approach and within this squad of players raises a series of concerns that are not easily overcome.
Bošković's languid work rate looks somewhat out of place in a side reliant upon industry and pace. The problem isn't one of hitting the right spot at the right time. Bošković is savvy enough to put himself in the proper places. It is, however, a matter of whether United boss Ben Olsen can stomach watching one player who operates at a deliberate pace when the other nine field players buzz around relentlessly.
The ongoing concerns about Bošković's fitness merely exacerbate the culture clash. After missing much of last season after knee surgery, Bošković has yet to start and finish a game for United this season. Tactical concerns sometimes make him the easiest player to sacrifice with Dwayne De Rosario available to slide seamlessly into the attacking midfield role, but there is no glossing over the fact that he represents something of a part-time player at this juncture.
Olsen's strength in depth up front could ensure the status quo continues even if Bošković suddenly starts logging 90 minutes on a weekly basis. De Rosario partnered Hamdi Salihi against the Revolution, but the reigning MLS MVP will likely drop into midfield once Chris Pontius returns from a gluteus minimus strain in the next couple of weeks. With Pontius, Salihi and Santos all fighting for minutes at forward, De Rosario can move into what he sees as his natural role – a roving and unshackled attacking presence – behind the front two.
(Note: Bošković plays a left-sided role for his country, but that spot simply doesn't exist within United's current setup. Olsen quite rightly prefers to use wingers given the tools at his disposal. Unless Bošković pops up on the left as a change of pace under certain circumstances, he's basically confined to the middle of the field for United as a general rule.)
That scenario would make Bošković expendable for a team in desperate need of salary budget room. If United wants to address potential liabilities in defense and obtain more convincing cover for Perry Kitchen in central midfield, then Bošković's departure would certainly create enough latitude to make a fairly significant move or two to strengthen (and perhaps disrupt) the squad.
All of those factors point to Bošković's departure after two injury-blighted years in MLS, but his recent displays, his chemistry with Salihi from their days together in Austria and his valuable presence as an insurance policy for De Rosario indicate the discussion shouldn't end there. For the moment, the final verdict appears far more uncertain than anyone would have anticipated just a few weeks ago.
Five Points – Week 12
1. D.C. United coach Ben Olsen on squandering a two-goal lead and ultimately securing a 3-2 victory over New England: “It’s strange because I feel unfulfilled,” Olsen said after Maicon Santos' 61st minute goal sent United to the top of the Eastern Conference. “I think our team feels unfulfilled, but it’s nice to feel unfulfilled and have three points in the [bag]. I prefer to look at this as a three-game homestretch that we’ve had, and how we’ve performed over that span, and that’s been very good.”
2. Colorado midfielder Jeff Larentowicz on how the Rapids managed to snag a 3-2 victory over Montreal at Dick's Sporting Goods Park: “It’s something that you learn that the year is long, sometimes it takes skill, sometimes it takes guts, sometimes it takes a little witchcraft, but we figured it out somehow tonight and got three,” Larentowicz told MLSsoccer.com after the Impact bossed most of the game and played the final half-hour with an extra man after Tyrone Marshall's ejection. “I think that having a break between now and our next MLS game, we wanted to get max points so we could sit on it for a bit.”
3. Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis on the entertainment value provided in the Claret-and-Cobalt's last-gasp 3-2 home victory over FC Dallas: “Oh, to be a season ticket holder right now…we’re giving them their money’s worth for sure,” Kreis said after Nat Borchers' stoppage time goal secured the three points. “Another crazy game tonight. FC Dallas played really hard, there was no giving up for them and that made our night difficult for sure. I am very pleased to get the three points against what I think is a very difficult opponent. When you’re missing guys like Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Javi Morales and Wingert...Four very strong leaders…to be without them and have the guys react how they did is a very good sign.”
4. Portland defender David Horst on the impact of the 39-minute halftime break due to thunderstorms in the 1-1 draw with Vancouver at JELD-WEN Field: “It kind of gets you out of rhythm a bit,” Horst said about the extended time in the dressing room as the Timbers held a 1-0 lead at the interval thanks to a Kris Boyd goal. “We can't use that as an excuse. Doesn't matter rain delay, hot, we know we got to go out there and play our game. We got to go score goals, defend, keep zeros, and right now, we're not doing that.”
5. Sporting Kansas City forward Kei Kamara on snapping a four-game winless streak with a 2-1 home victory over San Jose: “It was a great start to the game,” Kamara set after he set up C.J. Sapong's opener after five minutes and scored the second goal six minutes before halftime. “Everybody knew where we were at and our past four games haven’t been that good. I thought everyone came into the game with great focus. The crowd was amazing today. The energy was there from everyone, no matter what the temperature was outside. The crowd really pushed us and that was the energy we took into the game that gave us the three points today.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.