Last October, in front of more than 73,000 observers at Wembley Stadium, Branko Boskovic captained Montenegro’s national team to an important away tie against England in a 2012 European Championship qualifier.
Last Saturday, at a suburban NFL stadium cleared of spectators following an MLS match between D.C. United and the New England Revolution, Boskovic played in a reserve game sprinkled with first-year professionals and teenagers from the clubs’ youth academies.
Considered a centerpiece of United’s rebuilding efforts, the 30-year-old midfielder didn’t play in either of the first two regular season matches — conspicuous absences given his international experience and high salary.
Upon his arrival last summer, Boskovic became United’s highest-paid player, earning the prorated equivalent of $516,200 annually. He is expected to remain atop the list when this year’s salaries are released in the coming months.
Because the contract is guaranteed for the entire year, United needs Boskovic to rediscover his form.
“He arrived [at training camp] a little unfit,” General Manager Dave Kasper said. “It’s clear he didn’t do a lot over his break, and so he was behind most of the team for all of preseason. He’s just now getting his fitness.”
Coach Ben Olsen remained optimistic, saying: “He works very hard at training, and [in] the reserve games, he plays as hard as he would in a regular game.”
Boskovic’s primary position is on the left flank, but in the first two matches, Chris Pontius earned the assignment. Pontius, in his third season, had an impressive preseason and showed well in the opener.
“Right now, I have Pontius out there. That could change,” Olsen said. “We’re week to week here. [Boskovic] has proven to us that he’s willing to work and put the effort to show he deserves to be on the field.”
To his credit, Boskovic hasn’t lost his competitive fire, contributing two goals and two assists in two reserve matches.
“For every player, it’s difficult to sit on the bench and watch,” he said. “I am a professional. I respect every decision. I must work.”
Defender Dejan Jakovic won’t have to pay a fine for receiving a red card last weekend but will serve the usual one-game suspension, according to United officials.
The league’s disciplinary committee disagreed with referee Baldomero Toledo’s ruling and rescinded the fine, club president Kevin Payne said. Apparently, the card (and suspension) can’t be overturned. MLS didn’t immediately comment.
Former United players Eddie Pope and Earnie Stewart, as well as Montgomery County native Bruce Murray, were elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Cobi Jones, the U.S. national team’s career leader in matches played, and longtime coach Bob Gansler were also named.
Pope anchored United’s back line from 1996 to 2002 and appeared in three World Cups. Stewart, a three-time World Cup midfielder who scored in the 1994 upset of Colombia, was part of United’s 2004 MLS championship squad.
Murray, a product of the Washington area’s youth soccer boom in the 1970s and ‘80s, went on to become a prolific scorer for the national team, highlighted by a goal at the 1990 World Cup.
In a showdown between international club powers, Manchester United will play Barcelona on July 30 at FedEx Field in Landover. The match was in the works for months and finalized this week.
Tickets will go on sale to the general public in late April. United season ticket holders can use “Special Game C” to reserve a seat. Redskins suite and premium ticket holders will have advance access to the soccer seats.