D.C. United has been playing with our expectations; and no, I’m not talking about Charlie Davies. When Branko Boskovic was signed as United’s designated player last summer, it was with the understanding that he would be the #10, the playmaker in central midfield. In the two preseason scrimmages that have been played so far, Ben Olsen has been playing Boskovic in his natural position, on the left wing. Even though the preseason is still in its infancy, Boskovic seems to be playing more like the designated player that we expected him to be; it just happens to be out on the wing. He served in two crosses that led to goals, one from a corner kick and the other from the run of play. He also put in a goal in the intersquad scrimmage played on Friday.
Now, it remains to be seen if this play is the result of Boskovic being put on the wing or from him now having a full preseason to integrate himself into the club. The problem with midyear signings is that even good players need time to learn their teammates and be able to help them; this is even more pronounced in players that are supposed to be playmakers. A new striker can still make a mark by getting into the right positions and putting shots on frame; a new defender can concentrate on marking his man, while working into his other responsibilities. A midfielder’s play is totally dependent on service and until he has enough time to learn his teammates, he will not reach his potential.
As D.C. United roster continues to take shape, Boskovic’s possible move out to the wing is another part of the roster dance that United is playing. If he can keep this level of play while playing from the central midfield, he could be that number 10 that United has been missing. Boskovic running the show from the middle, with Najar and Quaranta bombing down the wings and Davies and Pontius (or Ngwenya or Wolff) is an enticing proposition. But even if Boskovic fails in the middle, if he can keep this play up on the wing he has locked down a starting spot. Boskovic out on the wing brings Simms back into the starting lineup and puts Davies, ‘Tino, Pontius, Ngwenya, and Wolff in competition for two spots. What is important is to continue to watch how Olsen constructs his lineups throughout the preseason; I am sure we will see Boskovic in the middle at some point, as well as Pontius and ‘Tino as both midfielders and forwards. I know I speculate a lot about the construction of this season’s roster, but what else is the offseason for?