Seemingly releasing months of pent-up frustration Tuesday, D.C. United midfielder Branko BoskovicÂ vented about the coaching staff's penchant for pulling him early in matches amid concerns about his fitness. In today's paper, my story dives into Boskovic's comments, coach Ben Olsen's response and what it means for the club down the stretch.
One element of Boskovic's situation I only briefly touched on in the story is his frustration coming in the wake of his decision to skip the Montenegro national team's World Cup qualifiers this fall so he can concentrate on United.
"I speak with my coach there and he told me the doors of the national team are always open for me," Boskovic said. "But really, after this [ACL] injury and everything, it's difficult to travel there and play. You can't be ready after traveling 15 hours, be ready to play after one day. ... You must sacrifice something and I decided to stay here to help as much as possible.
WOLFF UNDERGOES SURGERY
Forward and assistant coach Josh WolffÂ has undergone surgery to repair a lower back disc herniation. The time frame for his return is unknown.
The move is a minimal blow for United, as Wolff has made just nine appearances (one start) this season, notching a single assist. He had sat out United's past six games, and 11 of the past 13. With Lionard Pajoy, Maicon Santos, Hamdi Salihi and Long Tan all ahead of him on the forward depth chart, it was unlikely he was going to contribute again this year.
At 35 years old, Wolff now seems poised for a graceful transition into a full-time coaching role with United, although he has not yet made any announcement about his future.
United's defense found itself scrambling late in Saturday's 2-1 win over the New England Revolution, leaving goalkeeper Bill Hamid to preserve the win with several standout saves.
So what did the back line take away from the experience?
"We just have to stay alert for 90 minutes," center back Brandon McDonald said after Tuesday's film session. "If you look at the last 10 minutes of that game, they were playing like a 1-1-8."
When United are holding onto leads late, it's hard not to remember last year, when the club had notable difficulty closing out games.
"Us as a whole, we'd be lying if we don't think about that toward the end of the games when it's close like that," McDonald said. "Because of last year, we're trying to get that burden off our name here at this club that we can't finish out games. As much as went on in that game, we still found a way to win. So I think it's a positive for us."
Here is my guess at the starting lineup Olsen will roll out for Thursday night's match at the Philadelphia Union (8 p.m., ESPN2):
Hamid; Russell, McDonald, Jakovic, Korb; Najar, Kitchen, Neal, DeLeon; Pontius, Pajoy
Olsen on Tuesday mentioned using different players on the road than at home. With a golden opportunity for three points at RFK Stadium looming Sunday against last-place Chivas USA, I think Olsen will go moreÂ conservativeÂ at PPL Park, replacing striker Maicon Santos with right back Robbie Russell in a move that pushes Andy Najar to midfield and Chris Pontius up top.
After scoring Saturday, the more defensiveÂ Lewis NealÂ could get the start against a scrappy Union team. Boskovic also was effective off the bench in United's last meeting with Philadelphia (the "Geiger show"), so Olsen may want to use him in a similar capacity Thursday.