Branko Boskovic conceded he hadn’t earned his hefty keep over two years with D.C. United. So with his contract set to expire in two weeks, he knew he would have to accept a considerable pay cut to remain in Washington.
On Friday, United announced it had re-signed the Montenegrin midfielder — a move that shaved a few bucks off the payroll, maintained stability in a harmonious locker room and allowed Boskovic to continue trying to meet expectations heightened by salary and European pedigree.
“I am happy they offer me after these two years,” he said. “I must be honest: I did not show what I can do and must thank these people from the club because they give me one more chance.”
United could’ve dumped him — and his contract — altogether and applied the money toward another foreign signing. But Boskovic has begun to make an impact and there were no assurances the club would’ve found a worthy replacement during the month-long signing period, which opened Wednesday.
Although financial terms weren’t disclosed, Boskovic no longer is classified as a designated player, the elite MLS status that allows clubs to sign up to three players who exceed the maximum salary guideline of $350,000.
Boskovic’s previous deal was for $409,000 in base salary and $545,000 in guaranteed compensation, second on United’s payroll behind 2011 league MVP Dwayne De Rosario. The MLS players’ union won’t update the salary list again until the fall, but Boskovic’s package could be as low as $225,000.
Boskovic said he explored returning to Europe — he previously played for notable clubs Red Star Belgrade, Paris Saint-Germain and Rapid Vienna — but at age 32 and coming off major knee surgery last year, the most logical option was renegotiating with United.
“Normally everybody plays for money, but in my case, it was a little bit different,” said Boskovic, whose new pact runs through next summer, with a club-held option beyond then.
“After these difficult two years for me, I think now it’s a good beginning. The team is playing good and I have chance to play better and play more, and to prove myself.”
Two years into his United tenure, Boskovic is finally making a sustained impression. He lacked fitness upon his arrival in the middle of the 2010 season and then was sidelined for most of last season after undergoing ACL surgery.
This year, after gradually regaining endurance, he has become an influential component in United’s attack, albeit usually in a reserve role. In the second half of last weekend’s 3-2 loss at New York, Boskovic rejuvenated the club with his distribution and vision — a performance that improved his chances of starting Saturday night against the Montreal Impact at RFK Stadium.
Judging by Coach Ben Olsen’s comments Friday, Boskovic seems more likely to remain a super sub for the time being.
“He makes us a better soccer team, but it’s not always about soccer in this league,” Olsen said. “There are times where you need more than that, and that is always the decision I have because we have a bunch of guys who can contribute in a bunch of different areas.
“There are all these reasons why [Boskovic] is in the spot that he is, but he’s been great and I’m sure he will continually see more time as this season goes.”
If Olsen started Boskovic, it would have to be in central midfield; he doesn’t have the pace to play on the left wing, a position he filled regularly in Europe. With Boskovic orchestrating the attack, De Rosario would have to push into the withdrawn forward slot behind leading scorer Chris Pontius. That formation, however, would leave both pure strikers, Hamdi Salihi and Maicon Santos, on the bench.
Regardless of what Olsen decides, Boskovic will have a greater say in United’s pursuit of a playoff berth. And the uncertainty of whether he would remain with the club has been resolved.
“We wondered. Of course we wanted him to stay,” midfielder Perry Kitchen said of Boskovic, who is well-liked by teammates. “You see what he can do out there. We’re just very excited for him.”