Branko Boskovic inspired D.C. United’s audacious comeback bid with two searing strikes, but as the final moments melted away Tuesday evening, the Montenegrin midfielder was on the bench nursing a knee injury and his short-handed club was absorbing a 3-2 loss to the New England Revolution in a U.S. Open Cup qualifier.
Boskovic, a big-ticket player who’s been unable to secure a starting job in regular season play, was United’s most influential player for the second consecutive game, scoring in the 73rd and 82nd minutes to cut into a three-goal deficit.
The recipient of several hard challenges, Boskovic left in the 85th and didn’t return. United had exhausted its three substitutes and was short-handed for the remainder of regular time plus more than six minutes of added time.
Boskovic was found to have a contusion and will undergo testing Wednesday.
“The energy and fight toward the end was great and exciting, but the good teams don’t have to do that,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “The good teams put all that energy and passion early in the game so you don’t have to end up fighting to get a result.”
With the loss, in front of 1,843 observers at Maryland SoccerPlex, United will not participate in the tournament proper for the first time in nine years. Six MLS clubs received automatic berths, while the rest have had to navigate a qualifying process for two additional slots.
The Open Cup, founded in 1914, involves teams from various levels of American soccer and runs concurrent to the regular season. United reached the semifinals each of the previous three years, winning the title in 2008.
Kheli Dube scored late in the first half and again about a minute after halftime. William & Mary’s Alan Koger added another in the 69th minute before Boskovic led the charge. New England’s physical tack with Boskovic didn’t sit well with United.
On the play that ultimately knocked him out of the game, “That was a nasty foul and I don’t think it was a coincidence that Boskovic suffered it,” United President Kevin Payne said.
Payne also placed blame on his team for the three-goal predicament, saying: “We didn’t show up for 60 minutes.”
With this lower-priority match tucked between league dates, neither coach fielded a full-strength lineup. The Revolution left nine regulars at home and had five players on the bench, two short of the maximum. For United, which will play a league match Friday at Houston, six starters from the previous game were not in uniform and the other five were on the bench.
The Revolution went ahead on a 34th-minute counterattack, with Dube putting away Kenny Mansally’s cross. He struck again 75 seconds into the second half, latching onto Koger’s bouncing cross and beating goalkeeper Pat Onstad to the near corner from 18 yards.
For the second consecutive match, United turned to Boskovic for a response. And like last week against New York, he was bedeviled by the goalkeeper and framework: Bobby Shuttleworth made a soaring stop on a 22-yard free kick and a second set piece struck the right post.
United fell further behind on a goal by Koger, who capitalized on sloppy defending. Boskovic’s fortunes turned four minutes later with a rasping drive from inside the penalty area. Later, he struck from 23 yards to the far side of the net.
But United’s momentum was stunted by Boskovic’s departure. “On the field, I feel pain and I thought this guy broke my leg, but now it’s better,” he said.
On the match in general, he added: “The second half, we play very good, score two goals and find our game. But like a lot of games, we have problems with defense. They score so easy against us. We must be stronger on defense.”