For the vast majority of Branko Boskovic's tenure with D.C. United, the highly paid veteran's fitness has lingered as a concern.
When he arrived from Rapid Vienna in the summer of 2010, he was a player working his way into shape following the European offseason. After tearing a knee ligament early last year, he was used judiciously to kick off 2012.
But when coach Ben Olsen pulled Boskovic in the 56th minute of United's 2-1 win over the New England Revolution on Saturday, the move raised a few eyebrows — particularly after Olsen postgame said the healthy player still is not 90-minutes fit.
After kicking some water bottles Saturday en route to the bench, Boskovic on Tuesday vented about his playing time this season, during which he has made it past the 75th minute in just one of his 10 starts.
"Maybe I look like this, like I'm tired, I'm not ready," said Boskovic, who has made 20 appearances this season. "But that's how I play, that's how I run. I cannot change myself.
"You know, it's the end of the season. When am I going to be ready if I'm not ready now?"
In this case, the move paid clear dividends. Boskovic's replacement, journeyman Lewis Neal, buried the winning goal six minutes later.
Olsen's decision, though, still frustrated Boskovic after the player enjoyed an active first half that included a back-heel assist on Chris Pontius' opener and several dangerous set pieces.
"Maybe if I stay, maybe I score?" Boskovic said. "How can I be happy when every time I'm [the first player subbed] out? Nobody can be happy. I also say I'm not angry with Ben, I respect his decision. His decision was right because we win the game."
Once United's highest-paid player at more than $400,000 a year, Boskovic in June signed a more modest contract to stay in the nation's capital through the 2013 campaign at a base salary of $195,240.
Recently, the 32-year-old's commitment to the club has been heightened by his decision to skip the Montenegro national team's World Cup qualifiers this fall so he can concentrate on United.
While Boskovic's five assists are second on the team, he is 17th in minutes played.
"You need to play 90 minutes consistently to get fit," said Olsen, who Tuesday noted the substitution was aimed at adding a more defensive presence. "And he hasn't been in the plans for 90 minutes, so he's not 90-minutes fit in my mind."
Later, Olsen surmised the situation: "Unhappy that he gets subbed? Great. Happy that we won the game? That's all I want from my players. So if that's the case he's in, beautiful."
It's not difficult to understand Boskovic's disgruntlement considering the playmaker previously enjoyed fruitful stints with decorated clubs Paris Saint-Germain and Serbia's Red Star Belgrade.
"Maybe I'm not good enough physically for this league," Boskovic said. "Maybe this league is stronger — I don't know. But I also played in two, three leagues that are strong also and good in Europe, and there I play."
With captain and attacking catalyst Dwayne De Rosario, the reigning league Most Valuable Player, sidelined 10 to 12 weeks with a sprained knee ligament, Olsen knows he will have to lean on Boskovic as United (13-10-5) look to clinch a playoff berth in the season's final six games.
It was a notion he reiterated ahead of Thursday's trip to face the Philadelphia Union (7-13-6).
"I'm not going to make this a big issue. I don't have an ego with this stuff," Olsen said. "I don't care. I care about this team and winning games and doing the right thing for this team. That's fine. I realized from about a week in that I can't please all my players.
"Branko's been a great soldier. I'm surprised it's taken him this long to say something, to be honest."
NOTE: Forward and assistant coach Josh Wolff (nine appearances, one start) has undergone surgery to repair a lower back disc herniation. The time frame for his return is unknown.
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