WASHINGTON, D.C. — Branko Boskovic had seen enough.
Last Saturday, his D.C. United side had just lost its 20th league match of the season — its 12th defeat overall since his midsummer arrival and by virtue of their fourth blown lead during the same period.
While most of the attention, understandably, was paid to teammate Jaime Moreno and his United swan song, Boskovic sat at his locker across the room, quietly and matter-of-factly dissecting the naivete that had burned DC yet again.
“The level physically, running and everything, is the same as in Europe,” Boskovic said of his first three months in MLS. “But in Europe it is different tactically. They cut the space — the [defensive] line is near, not like here.
“It’s difficult," he continued. "Especially our defense, it’s always one against one. Even Nesta or Maldini, they cannot play like this. Always – if you watch [this] match, they are always like this, one against one.”
Boskovic has faced a host of adjustments since arriving in DC in midseason as a Designated Player signing, and the degree of his bewilderment at the young squad's struggles offers some insight into his own learning curve.
“[Real Madrid coach Jose] Mourinho wins in Champions League, Scudetto, only with tactics," he noted. "Players listen to him, they concentrate 90 minutes. We must respect when we score. It’s so difficult to score, maybe some guys don’t understand or they don’t have experience. But when you score, you must play more smart.
“And then every team scored so easily against us, you know?”
The Montenegrin midfielder built ample experience in the Serbian, French and Austrian leagues. He occupies an important role for his tiny young country’s national side, who are presently the shock leaders of Group G in UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying, ahead of established contenders England, Switzerland and Bulgaria. However, Boskovic has yet to show his quality to a similar extent for United, where his chemistry with colleagues has been slow to materialize.
When Boskovic joined DC, general manager Dave Kasper spoke of his team’s need for a playmaker who could “dictate the rhythm of the game” with cultured passing.
It’s far easier to acquire such players on the international market during the summer transfer window, but that also forces them to join MLS in midstream. Boskovic’s arrival during the European offseason left the 30-year-old behind the curve in terms of fitness, and the league’s pace and physicality often kept him from imposing himself.
However frustrating it might be for fans who were eager to see an immediate impact on their last-placed team, DC’s DP will simply have to be measured over a longer term. The season finale against Toronto showed signs of a growing confidence and comfort as Boskovic covered plenty of ground in midfield, asking for the ball and coaxing intelligent movement from his teammates.
But the MLS calendar now presents him with yet another new wrinkle: The 2011 preseason does not open until late January, so he must wait several months to continue his progress.
“I would like to have more games, but now it’s finished," he said. "But next season I’ll try to prepare myself the best I can and show what I can do.”
It means Boskovic is unlikely to be called in for Montenegro’s winter bid for a Euro 2012 berth.
“Now we have some friendly games, but we spoke and they’ll try new players,” he explained. “My status is good there. They understand. We have good communication.”
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