WASHINGTON — Major League Soccer’s detractors should take note of the situation presently facing Branko Boskovic.
Two weeks ago, D.C. United’s Designated Player flew back across the Atlantic for Montenegrin National Team duty and promptly played an important role in his country’s unblemished start to UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying. He started alongside the likes of Italian Serie A star Mirko Vucinic in both of the small Balkan nation’s impressive victories over Wales and Bulgaria.
However, the story at DC has been quite the opposite. The 30-year-old playmaker has only shown intermittent flashes of the quality that prompted United to make him their highest-paid player in a midseason acquisition continues to adapt to MLS. Because of this, Boskovic has yet to become an automatic selection for interim coach Ben Olsen.
“I am here about two months and I still try to find myself here, in practice, in game,” acknowledged Boskovic after a United training session this week.
While losing him to a lengthy intercontinental journey for international play would seem far from ideal for many coaches, Olsen is optimistic that Boskovic's stint with Montenegro can actually speed his progress at club level.
“Very few fit in right away,” said Olsen of DPs. “Some come and it takes a little bit [for them to adapt].
"You see each day [Boskovic is] here, he’s getting better, he’s getting fitter. The national-team stuff came and you could tell he came back and brought some of that quality back,” added the DC manager.
Boskovic and his countrymen were elated by their strong start, especially the road win in Bulgaria, which has placed UEFA’s newest member nation level with favored England atop Group G.
“Yeah, it’s a little bit hard for me,” Boskovic said of his demanding travel itinerary. “[But] when you win two games, it’s perfect.”
“Nobody expected this. Maybe we expect to win at home some games, but we start good. We have a good group, first time we don’t have injury [problems], everybody is fit. It’s great.”
Boskovic's off-field transition has moved apace as his wife and 5-year-old son have now joined him in the United States, settling in Alexandria, Va. His club coaches are considering him for a left midfield role in upcoming games after using him primarily in attacking midfield so far, but they expect to see the most dramatic progress arrive from a sharp focus on conditioning.
“Branko’s getting fitter every day and that’s a big part of, I think, why people are doubting him a little bit,” said Olsen.
And as he gets fitter, the Montenegrin could very well start showing continued brilliance rather than just flashes of it.