As you've no doubt heard, DC United has signed midfielder Branko Boskovic to a DP deal. While there were hints that Boskovic would arrive in MLS, no one had outright mentioned DC as his destination. The main recent rumor had concerned Dutch winger Dutch winger Edwin de Graaf. However, Boskovic's experience as a central playmaker appears to be more in line with our current needs.
This is most likely United's biggest mid-season move, at least on paper. It's a Designated Player signing, and Boskovic has a quality resume. However, United has finally found its footing in 2010 and has been churning out quality results of late. How will this change things? Beyond the jump, I have some scattered ideas on how Boskovic may impact DCU.Boskovic has to be the playmaker we've been crying out for all season. If you've been reading this blog, you'll know that both writers and virtually every regular poster has agreed that United would not be able to win regularly without better offensive play in central midfield. While the club improved things temporarily by signing Stephen King a few weeks ago, King has mostly been a success by playing simply. He hasn't imposed his will on games; rather, he's been more adept at blending in as part of a more cohesive unit. That's admirable, considering he was just tossed into the lineup virtually the moment he arrived in town, but it's probably not enough for us to climb out of the large hole we've dug in the standings.
Obviously, making a DP signing at the position means that the club's braintrust understood that need and believes that Boskovic is going to succeed at a demanding job. The question, obviously, is whether he'll be able to do well here or not. I'm not going to lie; my knowledge of the recent history of the Austrian Bundesliga isn't that high. I have heard of Boskovic, but that doesn't mean I know anything about him. Will he be able to deal with the fact that MLS midfielders tend to compensate for occasional mental lapses with more physical aggression? Can he successfully fit into Curt Onalfo's 442 system? How will he cope with MLS refereeing? What about this rumored fear of flying (note: Kyle Sheldon did clarify on Twitter that the club has looked into it and that they believe there will be no problem, but it's still a minor concern to me until Boskovic flies to an away game without incident)?
For United's sake, the answer to all of these questions must be positive. We're in decent enough form right now, but we spend far too much time having to defend because we can't impose ourselves via possession. We can knock the ball around, sure, but we need to turn that possession into real danger or risk more games like our recent 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake. In that game, we dominated the run of play, but King was the only player to find himself in a really dangerous scoring position at any point. For this deal to work, and for us to build on our recent steps forward, Boskovic has to be a big factor in creating chances when we've got the ball.
The kid stays in the picture. In the de Graaf post, I mentioned that I thought it would be quite beneficial for us to sign a right midfielder that was more consistent than Andy Najar, who could then become the ace up Onalfo's sleeve as a supersub. While I still really like that approach, it seems unlikely to me that we'll have both Boskovic and de Graaf suiting up. Finding a player that's better than Najar is going to be somewhat tricky. As a result, I think we're going to see Najar continue as our first choice right midfielder (provided he's still in form and stays healthy). I have no problem with that, but it will mean that Najar has to quickly learn about the tactics teams will employ to prevent him from adding to his highlight reel on the dribble.
Tactical flexibility. Boskovic is almost certainly going to be playing at the top of a midfield diamond for us. Here's how I see us lining up once he becomes eligible to play on July 15th:
However, he also has experience on the left wing, both at the club level and internationally. This offers us some possible tweaks, especially within games. What we could occasionally see is King coming on for Najar or Chris Pontius, with Boskovic moving to the left.
That would give us a more conservative look centrally, which might be useful if we're defending leads. It could also be a way to expose teams that are weak down their right flank. I don't know if Boskovic is fast, but he's probably crafty. I'd be interested in seeing us try to exploit a potential mismatch in soccer IQ on that side if a) the opportunity presents itself and b) we aren't already doing well enough with our normal team.
This isn't often a look we'll be using by any means, but right now I think Onalfo is limited tactically by having a small group of players that are actually in form. Outside the current starting team, the only player that is both playing well and not injured is Adam Cristman, who can only play one role (never mind Onalfo's attempt to use him at right midfield against Houston). Eventually, we're going to need options like this one, because the straightforward 442 won't always work.
Finally, Boskovic potentially gives us the option of playing the popular 4231 if we feel like it's needed:
Jaime Moreno and Najar have played the attacking midfield role in our previous attempts at using this formation, but Moreno doesn't have the legs for midfield and we have to remember that Najar's decent showings there were in the context of our total lack of quality at that time. It's also not really his best position (though what that is remains to be seen). By contrast, Boskovic appears to be a natural fit for the role. This would also allow us to use Najar as our resident supersub (as mentioned earlier).
Ultimately, I am optimistic that this will work. However, I'm also not sitting around daydreaming about a Boskovic-led DCU making a Cinderella run to an MLS Cup title. Boskovic fits the profile of what we need: He's experienced, has been seen as a leader elsewhere, plays a position we are short at, and has a history of being on winning teams. However, I have to point out that Christian Castillo also fit the profile of what we needed at left midfield heading into preseason, and now he's buried on the bench.