Since D.C. United kicked off their 2012 campaign with a revamped roster, one key personnel question has lingered over the club: Is Branko Boskovic in for the long haul or will the pricey midfielder be making an early exit?
Three months later, the dilemma is as murky as ever.
Boskovic's contract, which makes him United's second-highest-paid player, expires July 15, and the player and club are faced with negotiating a new pact or parting ways. Although Boskovic has been plagued by injury and inconsistency since joining D.C. in July 2010, he has surged the past six weeks, finally looking like the eloquent playmaker the front office has envisioned pulling the strings all along.
"It's not easy," said Boskovic, who turned 32 on Thursday. "You have one month of contract and still you don't know if you're going to stay or go. But when I go to the field for practice or a game, I forget this. I put this on the side and concentrate on the game."
Boskovic, whose European career included stops with storied sides Paris Saint-Germain and Rapid Vienna, made just four league appearances (one start) last season before tearing his ACL in a U.S. Open Cup match against the New England Revolution.
Although the onetime Montenegro national team captain returned to the lineup in United's opener March 10, a 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City, he appeared in just six of D.C.'s subsequent 11 contests, making one start.
But in United's past four matches, Boskovic has begun shaking the rust of his injury layoff, notching an assist in three straight games. He also made three starts in an eight-day span last month, successfully testing the durability of his repaired knee.
"You always know you can play it into him and he's going to hold it up for you," midfielder-forward Chris Pontius said. "He sees the game very well. He's a smart player. So your runs kind of change with him in the game. He's maybe not the dynamic box-to-box midfielder, but he's a possession player that you're running off."
Boskovic's full-season compensation of $545,367 is second on United to Dwayne De Rosario, the league Most Valuable Player who signed a new contract in February. It's unlikely Boskovic will stay on at that price, but he could choose to sign a new deal at a reduced salary.
Should Boskovic exit, United will most miss his set-piece service. In recent matches, Boskovic whipping left-footed balls into the box off free kicks and corner kicks has developed into one of the club's most lethal weapons, creating opportunities even when the run of play isn't in D.C.'s favor.
"Just concentrate to give a good ball," Boskovic said of his strategy, before adding with a smile, "No big secret."
In a 1-0 win at the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, Pontius bagged the goal in the 78th minute off a superb Boskovic free kick to the back post.
"We owe a bunch of points to Branko, just on set pieces and some of the plays he's made," coach Ben Olsen said. "He's done great with limited minutes. It's not easy for a pro like Branko, who has been on a global stage playing in internationals, to sit on the bench and come in and make an impact. But he's had a great attitude."
It's unclear whether Boskovic will start or be a substitute Sunday when first-place United (9-4-3) travel to face their Atlantic Cup rivals, the New York Red Bulls (8-4-3).
That battle for playing time is one of many factors the Montenegrin will weigh as he mulls his future.
"Everybody likes to play, everybody likes to start games," Boskovic said. "Some games you must start from the bench, some games they need you from the first minute. It's like this in soccer. Normally I want to play more than this, but we'll see.
"Everything is in the air."