Hernández (above) and Boskovic look to take the reins of the DC midfield and lead the team to victory.
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DC place hopes on duo of Hernández, Boskovic

WASHINGTON – Branko Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez are seven years apart in age and possess dramatically different backgrounds. But common circumstances have drawn them together since their arrival to D.C. United.

The Montenegrin and his Argentinean teammate are cohabitating in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Va., just across the Potomac River from DC, and also share a “knights in shining armor” role as midseason reinforcements for a team struggling to mount a late push for relevance in the MLS Eastern Conference.

“Yeah, we are now like brothers,” explained Boskovic last week. “We are in the same situation, we came in the same day and we live in the same apartment. He’s my good friend.”

Except that he doesn’t speak Spanish, and Hernández has yet to develop his English skills since relocating to Washington – which would seem to put a damper on their interaction.

“You know, I use a little bit of Italian, French and with hands,” explained Boskovic with a chuckle. “Even if we don’t speak the same language, I think we speak the same language on the [field].”

United’s brain trust are certainly hoping that the odd couple can strike up a meaningful conversation on the turf at Rio Tinto Stadium this weekend as the Black-and-Red take on defending MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake on Saturday night.

Head coach Curt Onalfo seems likely to field the duo together in the startling XI for the first time in league play, and their quality gives DC much more reason for optimism on a road trip to Salt Lake, where they have not enjoyed success since their inaugural visit in October 2005.

“They’re excellent passers of the ball, they’re technically good, so they help us keep possession,” said Onalfo about his newest midfielders. “They have the ability to make that final pass that we’ve struggled with at times during the year in certain games.”

Hernández has made the more immediate impact, in part because of the fitness and understanding built during an extended training stint with United before his signing was made official. Although the 23-year-old has yet to find the net in league action, his blend of energy and skill made the DC front line noticeably more dynamic over the past two weeks, and opposing defenders’ tendency to respond with aggressive challenges has already prompted a public outcry from club president Kevin Payne.

In Boskovic, United seem to have found a cultured midfield distributor similar to those that have inspired the club in the past. After experimenting with a host of different playmaking options over the season’s first half, the rest of the team must now adapt to Boskovic’s style and make the most of his vision by offering intelligent runs off the ball.

“We’ve always had hope. They’ve just come on and added a lot more ‘oomph’ to our attack,” said DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid. “Those two additions – you can’t beat them. Hernández is great, he holds the ball extremely well, and Boskovic is a great passer. So with those two in our lineup, we get a lot more than we have.”

Elsewhere, United have welcomed Adam Cristman, Marc Burch, Dejan Jakovic and Chris Pontius back from injury and all could play a role against RSL. Though it would be a surprise if any of them made the first XI, Onalfo will surely use his full allotment of substitutions given Utah’s high-desert heat and stamina-sapping altitude, not to mention Real’s tendency to dominate possession. The champs have not lost at home in 19 games.

“We know it’s a difficult task. We’re going against the MLS Cup champion of last year,” said Onalfo. “But we go into the game confident. We know we need to have an intelligent game plan that we make sure we carry out, and we very much look forward to playing the champion.”