DC expect big boost in 2012 from fully fit Boskovic

Even if D.C. United hadn’t gone out and signed any new players, the offseason process would have already brought in another talent simply by default.

Midfielder and Designated Player Branko Boskovic is expected to be fully fit and ready for the season opener after missing nearly the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL.

“We’re a better team with him out there, we’re a more attractive team,” head coach Ben Olsen told reporters recently. “We’re a pass away now when he can link up with guys like [Dwayne De Rosario], Andy [Najar], [Chris] Pontius.”

After a slow start to the 2011 season, Boskovic appeared to finally be picking up steam in late April. He scored a brace in a 3-2 US Open Cup play-in match loss against New England.

WATCH: Boskovic hammers the bar

But towards the end of that game, the Montenegrin international was injured by Revolution forward Alan Koger’s sliding challenge. Tests after the game revealed a torn ACL, requiring reconstructive knee surgery and a long recovery process, ending his season.

At the start of this year’s preseason, the knee has continued to improve.

“It’s good,” he said of his knee. “It’s really better, every practice with the team, and I hope after the trip [to Arizona] I’m going to feel much better physically.”

Without Boskovic managing the D.C. attack from his midfield spot last year, it forced United to alter their approach drastically before going out and acquiring Dwayne De Rosario.

“We became a counterattack team last year, largely because we didn’t have Boskovic,” Olsen said. “He’s a playmaker, gives us possession, he’s going to make players around him much better.”

Since his arrival in the middle of the 2010 season, Boskovic has yet to live up to the hype that generally accompanies a Designated Player. When he first joined, D.C. United were mired in their worst season in franchise history, and he wasn’t able to engineer any kind of turnaround in the short time he had that year.

Entering preseason a year ago, coaches weren’t pleased with his fitness level, leading to his benching at the start of the season, and being used in that Open Cup play-in match.

But with that in the past, this time around, Olsen is pleased to see the work the 31-year-old put in while making his recovery, entering camp at a higher level than before.

“He’s a guy that needs to stay fit, and this offseason he was in the gym five times a week with our strength and conditioning guy,” Olsen said.

Adding a unique wrinkle to the looming season is Boskovic’s contract status – his two-year deal is set to run out in July, with United holding an option on him for another year.

But with his fitness intact and continually improving, Boskovic is ready to finally make a splash in D.C. And he’ll also have the chance do so with a familiar face joining the team: newly signed striker Hamdi Salihi, a former teammate of Boskovic’s at Rapid Vienna.

The Montenegrin had nothing but good things to say about his new teammate.

“I remember when he was at [Austrian club] SV Ried, he scored a lot of goals, also [when he joined] Rapid,” Boskovic said. “He’s very dangerous in the box.”