Substitute nets winner against Chivas USA
In two straight games, Branko Boskovic had been substituted 10 minutes after halftime, only to see his replacement create or score D.C. United's game-winning goal.
On Sunday, Boskovic got his turn.
After coming on for Maicon Santos in the 57th minute, Boskovic's diving header in the 64th sent United to a 1-0 victory over Chivas USA at RFK Stadium. It was United's third win in a row and helped it move closer to its first playoff berth since 2007.
"Even though I'm sure [Boskovic] disagrees with me at times, he's committed to the guys out there, and he's committed to this organization," United coach Ben Olsen said. "He always has been. I'm happy he was the hero today."
The victory moved United (15-10-5, 50 points) into a tie for third place in the Eastern Conference and extended the club's franchise record unbeaten streak at home to 15 games.
The goal, before a crowd of 11,770, was Boskovic's first in 39 regular-season appearances over three years. It was also an out-of-character strike for the Montenegrin, who is known more for his free kicks and passing ability.
After Lionard Pajoy worked himself free on the right end line, Boskovic lowered himself as he darted in front of Chivas defender Danny Califf to redirect Pajoy's cross to the far post. After the ball spun across the line, Boskovic shook his fist in the air and then tried an aborted knee slide - "Now my knee hurts, and I have a lot of scratches," he joked - before getting engulfed by his teammates.
"I think we were all as excited as he was," United defender Chris Korb said. "I think by the celebration, you could tell how happy he was. It's a big relief off his shoulders, especially after the last couple of weeks.
Boskovic, who has played 90 minutes once since 2010, vented his frustrations over early substitutions last week after Lewis Neal came on for him and scored the game winning goal in a 2-1 win over New England on Sept. 15. Five days later at Philadelphia, Santos had replaced Boskovic and delivered a gorgeous pass to start a sequence that ended with Pajoy's finish in a 1-0 win over the Union.
"I put this behind me," Boskovic said. "I speak with Ben. I respect him, and this is normal in career. Everybody have moment like this. But it's important for me after all this, I didn't go down. Like I say, until the end I try to help the team."
Boskovic's contribution didn't figure to be so crucial against Chivas (7-15-7, 28 points), the last-place team in the West and one that had lost four games in a row. From the outset, United moved the ball at will, especially on the right side with Andy Najar and Nick DeLeon.
When DeLeon cut inside from the right wing and delivered a powerful left-footed strike from distance, it looked to be the first of a repeated onslaught.
Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy displayed his All-Star quality with a spectacular save to deny the United rookie, but the test was a rare one in the first 45 minutes. He also stopped Santos with a dive to his right and stooped low to catch another dipping shot from DeLeon. Kennedy's most nervous moment came when defender John Valencia hit him in the chest with a back pass, but United wasn't crisp and appeared to run out of ideas as the game marched toward halftime.
United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was even called into action, reaching out for a diving block on a cross before a high leap to corral Nick LaBrocca's chip. United's defense also scrambled late to preserve the result.
United's win capped off a weekend in which pieces fell into place to aid the team's quest for the postseason. New York (14-8-8, 50 points) tied New England to make a leap into third place possible, while both Houston (12-8-10, 46 points) and Columbus (13-11-6, 45 points) lost, allowing United to create breathing room in front of its closest pursuers.