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Branko Boskovic - The Key To D.C. United In 2011

He might not be the biggest name, but Branko Boskovic could have the biggest impact for United this year.
He might not be the biggest name, but Branko Boskovic could have the biggest impact for United this year.

There are lots of things that could go right or wrong for D.C. United in 2011.

Will Andy Najar continue to progress, or will he hit a sophomore slump? Will the team stay relatively healthy for once? Will United find a 10-goal scorer in either Charlie Davies or Joseph Ngwenya? Who will win the starting goalkeeper position?

To me though, the one single person who could make or break United's season is Branko Boskovic? Will he play like the player who helped lead his native Montenegro to become the first team ever to shut out England at New Wembley Stadium in Euro Qualifying last year? Or will he play more like the short-term Boskovic who wore black-and-red in 2010? He had no goals, no assists, and missed enough defensive assignments to stand out.

We gave Boskovic a pass last year, because he came into a terrible situation midway through a terrible season. He and Pablo Hernandez never really had a chance to adjust. Losing had become part of the culture at that point, and no one, not even Ben Olsen, was able to change it.

This year is different. Boskovic is fit and in top form. And he is fitting in quite nicely, earning four assists in two preseason matches so far.

In a conversation with Alex Caulfield for, Boskovic talked about how this year is different.

I think the atmosphere is much better. We have a better group with more confidence. There are a lot of good guys with experience and potential here. I think we are much better than last year, and we will continue to be better with more game ... Last year I was here for five or six months, and it actually felt like quite a long time. I feel more comfortable having that [experience], and I think everything is better in the team this time.

Boskovic has played most of the preseason on the left side of midfield, which makes sense as Dax McCarty is likely to partner with Clyde Simms in central midfield, where Boskovic lined up last year. But this creates quite a crowd on the wings, with Santino Quaranta, Chris Pontius, and Najar all fighting for playing time.

I'm not too worried about where each player will line up though. The midfield will work itself out. The best players will play. The good news here is that Boskovic appears ready to make a big impact in 2011, wherever it is.