Branko Boskovic’s frustration about playing time this season began to boil over Saturday night when he was removed from D.C. United’s match against the New England Revolution early in the second half. He was animated on his way to the sideline and took a seat on the end of the bench.
On Tuesday, in his first comments since the game, Boskovic said he remained bothered by Coach Ben Olsen’s decision and by Olsen’s explanation that he isn’t fit enough.
“The season is [almost] over and they say I am still not fit,” Boskovic said. “What can I say? I feel good. Maybe I look like I am not ready, but that’s how I look, that’s how I play, that is my style, that is how I run. I can’t change how I am. It’s a little bit stupid to say I am not fit but the season is over. When am I going to be ready if I am not now ready?”
With a hint of scarcasm, he added: “Maybe this league is too strong for me, I don’t know.”
After the match, Olsen said he replaced Boskovic with Lewis Neal (who ultimately scored the go-ahead goal in a 2-1 victory) because “he is not 90 minutes fit, so we knew at some point he would have to come off. It looked like he was starting to fade a little bit. It’s tough because Branko gives you some real magic, but there was starting to be a cost to that.”
Boskovic assisted on Chris Pontius’s first-half goal and served several quality free kicks in his 56 minutes.
Asked if he was upset about being removed, Boskovic said: “Yes, of course, because everybody is upset when they go out or sit on the bench. I am not angry, I respect the decision, it’s good for us because the guy who comes in scores the goal, it’s beautiful, it’s good. But like I say, if I am not ready now, when am I going to be? Maybe if I have 90 minutes in two or three games, it will be better. Practice is one thing, but games are something different.”
Boskovic’s playing time has been sporadic this season. He has started 10 of 28 regular season matches and played all 90 minutes just once. He has remained in a game beyond 70 minutes just two other times.
Fitness was an issue at the beginning of the season as Boskovic continued rehabilitation from a torn knee ligament that sidelined him for most of the 2011 campaign. But he seemed to improve his endurance and began to have a greater impact by the middle of the season.
With Boskovic’s $410,000 base contract — second highest on the club — set to expire this past summer and production not meeting expectations, United offered a new deal worth $195,000. Boskovic, who at 32 is in the late stage of his career and coming off major knee surgery, agreed.
Boskovic is second on the club in assists with five. With Dwayne De Rosario out for the season with a knee injury, Boskovic inherited greater responsibility in holding the ball and generating scoring opportunities.
“This feeling, all the time, when the first substitution, and you look, and you always” come out of the match,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how you play. Maybe I look like this, maybe I look like that. Maybe I am not ready, maybe it’s my feet.”
The timing of Boskovic’s comments come at an anxious time for United, which is locked in a tight MLS playoff race with six matches remaining. DCU is two points ahead of the Columbus Crew for the fifth — and final — slot in the Eastern Conference, but is also within striking distance of the fourth-place Houston Dynamo.
United (13-10-5) will visit the Philadelphia Union (7-13-6) on Thursday night and host Chivas USA (7-13-7) on Sunday evening.
*Moreno scores! We heard that refrain just a few times between 1996 and 2010. Since Jaime’s retirement, his son James Moreno has emerged in United’s academy program. Over the weekend, the 17-year-old scored for the under-18 squad during a 5-1 victory against Virginia Rush in Virginia Beach. The U-18 roster also includes Andy Najar’s brothers, Denis and Cristhyan. The team will play a Pennsylvania side this Saturday at 11 a.m. at Long Bridge Park in Arlington.
Meantime, DCU academy defender Suliaman Dainkeh (South Lakes High School, University of Maryland recruit) played 90 minutes for the U.S. under-18 national team in a 3-1 loss to Club Brugge’s U-19s and a 1-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund’s U-18s. He also entered at halftime of a 4-2 triumph over the Netherlands and a 2-0 win against Feyenoord.
*ESPN2 wil carry United’s match Thursday at Philadelphia starting at 8 p.m. ET. Comcast SportsNet and Galavision will handle Sunday’s home game vs. Chivas USA at 7 p.m.