For the hundreds of nameless college soccer players hoping for a chance to play in MLS, there is a standard route: Receive a coveted invitation to the league's scouting combine, make an impression during the four-day workouts, hope to be among the 48 selected at the draft and, if all else fails, wait for the supplemental draft a few weeks later.
Bobby Boswell never got to the first step.
_____United vs. Crew_____
Where: Columbus Crew Stadium.
When: 8 p.m.
Radio: WMET-1160 (English); WACA-1540, WKDV-1460, WLXE-1600, WYSK-1350 (Spanish).
Records: United 1-0-1, Crew 1-1-0.
D.C. Probable Starters (3-5-2 formation): GK Nick Rimando; Ds David Stokes, Bobby Boswell, Mike Petke; MFs Josh Gros, Ben Olsen, Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez, Steve Guppy; Fs Jaime Moreno, Alecko Eskandarian.
Columbus Probable Starters (3-5-2): GK Jon Busch; Ds Robin Fraser, Chad Marshall, Mark Shulte; MFs Manny Lagos, David Testo, Simon Elliott, Danny Szetela, Kyle Martino; Fs Edson Buddle, Ante Razov.
"I wasn't happy about not getting invited [to the combine], but I wasn't too upset," said Boswell, who completed a stellar career at Florida International University last fall. "I just wanted to keep training on my own and make sure that when I got called in somewhere I'd be able to show well. I hoped I would get an opportunity."
Unable to navigate the normal channels to MLS, Boswell took a roundabout path. Now, two months later, he has ascended to one of the most high-pressured positions (central defense in a three-man back line) in place of a two-time all-MLS selection (Ryan Nelsen) for a D.C. United squad seeking a second consecutive league title.
Boswell will probably make his third straight regular season start tonight when travel-weary United (1-0-1) plays at Columbus (1-1-0). He was part of a United defense that was shredded by Mexican club Pumas, 5-0, in a Champions' Cup semifinal Wednesday in Mexico City. On Pumas's first goal, Boswell allowed Bruno Marioni to sneak behind him for a wide-open header in the 11th minute.
United teammates and coaches say they expect Boswell to make mistakes in the early months, but overall they're pleased with his rapid development.
"He's someone the team is starting to trust," Coach Peter Nowak said early this week. "The most important thing is consistency. For a player like Bobby, he's smart. He knows it's 32 games [in the regular season]. We are seeing the value in him."
Added veteran midfielder Ben Olsen: "For what he's been thrown into, I think he's done pretty well. That's a tough position to come into, especially with the three-back system we play. It's a tough gig, for sure."
After not getting an invite to the scouting combine in California, which was held a few days before the Jan. 14 draft, Boswell kept sharp by training in South Florida. He worked out with former college teammates and with MLS players. He was invited to practice with a Danish club on winter break in the area.
Having missed the combine, Boswell wasn't surprised when his name wasn't called in the main draft. United knew about him prior to the supplemental draft, but the club wanted to use its picks on secondary needs.
Still, United needed defensive help following the departure of Nelsen, its team captain, to Blackburn Rovers in the English Premier League in January. So team officials followed up on tips from coaches in Florida that Boswell would be a nice late pickup. D.C. invited him to training camp in Bradenton, Fla., and discovered quickly that he could play at the MLS level.
"We saw the skills, we saw the upside," said Nowak, who used an MLS discovery option to sign Boswell to a developmental contract. "He's not a big talker, but you don't talk with words -- you talk with your performance."
At 6 feet 2, Boswell strikes a presence in central defense and is able to combat big opposing forwards. Veteran defenders Mike Petke, Brandon Prideaux and Bryan Namoff have provided a support system for their inexperienced colleague.
"It's been exciting," said Boswell, a triple major at FIU in international business, business management and psychology. "I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well because I want to keep playing and keep playing well. I didn't know what was going to happen [when the season started]. I knew I was coming into a great opportunity with [Nelsen] leaving. It's not fair to say I thought I'd be starting on Opening Day, but I knew I would have an opportunity to show what I could do."
With Boswell progressing, United appears less inclined to sign an internationally seasoned central defender right away. The club has kept tabs on several candidates, but it might be midseason, if at all, before something happens.
"Is Bobby the answer for now? Yeah," Nowak said. "The team is starting to feel comfortable with him. We'll see what happens."