Back before the start of preseason, D.C. United center back Bobby Boswell claimed to be caught off guard. During the team’s media day, head coach Ben Olsen had discussed the possibility of using Sean Franklin as a center back. Considering the other center back, Steve Birnbaum, was away with the US national team for their January camp, it was safe to assume that Olsen was looking at Franklin to partner Birnbaum, with Boswell potentially left in the cold.
“That’s the first I heard of that,” Boswell said back in January, when asked about the possibility of Franklin moving to center back, and affecting his role within the team.
That scenario played out in the preseason, as Franklin saw most of the first team minutes alongside Birnbaum, and eventually started the first three games of the season at center back for the Black-and-Red.
Boswell was on the bench for all three games, but didn’t see any time. Not exactly what the veteran center back was hoping for in his 7th season with United.
“I wasn’t real happy with how the first part [of the season] unfolded,” Boswell told B&RU on Tuesday. “It’s sports. You gotta be ready when your name is called.”
In the first three games of the season, United had picked up just one point. After a scoreless draw against Sporting Kansas City to start the season, United lost 4-0 to New York City FC and 2-0 to Columbus Crew. All those came with Franklin playing alongside Birnbaum.
Following the international break, United returned to action two weeks ago against the Philadelphia Union with two big changes. Up front, Jose Ortiz stepped in for the injured Patrick Mullins. The more surprising change, though, was Boswell retaking his place along United’s back line. Since then, United has won twice in a row, with Boswell picking up a Team of the Week nod from MLSsoccer.com following D.C.’s 2-1 win over NYCFC.
“I feel like when I’m on the field, I can help the team win games,” Boswell added. “We’ve been fortunate that the results have gone our way the past two games. Every day you have to earn it, and every weekend you have to prove it.”
For the foreseeable future, at least while United continue to build upon their performances, it appears that Boswell will be favored over several other younger options at center back.
“We’ve had a bunch of conversations in the preseason about what this may look like, what it might not look like,” Olsen told reporters on Tuesday. “You’ve seen some things play out, that we both thought might happen.”
Olsen made it a point, after the win over the Union, to say that Franklin wasn’t dropped due to performances on the field. But, Olsen said that there was something missing within the team, and it appears that it might have just been Boswell’s presence.
There might be something to that. United have their only two wins of the season with Boswell in the starting lineup, and the improved team defending in those games is undoubtedly a big factor.
“He had a phenomenal game for us back there,” Boswell’s fellow defender Taylor Kemp told B&RU on Tuesday. “Bobby is a guy that’s tough to keep out of the lineup. You know what you get with him. He’s very smart about his positioning, he knows how to break up big plays. He has a knack for it, that’s why he’s been successful for so long.”
Boswell, who recently turned 34 years old - making him the second oldest player on the team, behind Marcelo Sarvas - has had to change his game from year to year as he has aged. Though he’s never been known for his speed, there’s still a natural drop off in ability as a player gets older.
So it’s incumbent upon Boswell to keep adapting, especially when he lost his place to Franklin to start the season.
“Every year I’m different. You have to be smarter,” said Boswell. “Your physical abilities change, but I’ve always been a player that relies on my positioning, my ability to communicate, and have the guys around me respond. That’s the one thing I might have brought that wasn’t there, the ability to get guys where they need to be on the field, and holding guys accountable.”
And Olsen, his former teammate, couldn’t be more proud with how Boswell handled the entire situation.
“He’s been an absolute pro how he went about the preseason. His leadership role and his personality within the team didn’t change” Olsen said. “He continued to be a positive influence around here. Bobby doesn’t know any other way to do it. He’s not going to change who he is as a person because of a game or two on the bench, because he’s been through so much.”
Of course, in typical Boswell fashion, he still is focusing on ways that he and the team can improve. United has seen two shutouts escape their grasp, after all, and has had to rely on some heroics from goalkeeper Bill Hamid. As a result, Boswell is concentrating on cleaning up inadequacies along the back line before United heads out for a treacherous three games string of road games to round out their April schedule.
“We can still be better, see out games better. We are still giving up too many chances. I would like to limit that, and keep some zeros,” Boswell told B&RU. “Bill [Hamid] is pulling some saves out of his rear end, and I want to limit those chances, and not put him in those situations. If we get zeros, we’re going to score goals, and that’s what we want as a unit.”