After struggling to coexist for two and a half years, it only makes sense that D.C. United and midfielder Branko Boskovic parted ways just days after the 2012 season’s end. They agreed mutually to cut ties despite the 32-year-old Montenegrin’s contract extending until next summer.
“I have had some private family matters for several months now,” Boskovic said in a statement. “It’s a difficult decision for me after a very good season here.”
But it wasn’t an easy season, and Boskovic was always unlikely to return. Following a knee injury that cost him most of 2011, D.C. United only reluctantly integrated Boskovic and waited until the last moment to sign him to a new contract in July, when Boskovic agreed to cut his Designated Player salary ($409,000 base, $545,000 in guaranteed compensation) by more than half ($195,000/$242,000).
United won’t be able to do the same with forward Hamdi Salihi, who was also Boskovic’s teammate at Rapid Vienna. In Washington they played together in just 11 games total, making only four starts side-by-side (D.C. was 3-1 in those matches). Despite paying a transfer fee last winter for the Albanian, who is the team’s second-highest paid player ($305,460/$487,460), United started him just 10 times in 34 games. It’s hurt Salihi’s value and will make him hard to trade, which may be the only way to get some of his salary off D.C.’s cap next season. If D.C. United tries to trade him back overseas, Salihi will still count toward the salary cap figure.
“We’ve been searching for the right No. 9 for this club for a while now, and we think we’ve found it,” United coach Ben Olsen said of Salihi back in February. On Tuesday, Olsen was asked about United’s needs.
“We’re going to have to continue looking for a striker, a guy who is a top-class guy who can really get us to the next level,” he said.
Reminded of Salihi, Olsen then added: “I thought all the forwards gave us good moments this year. None of them had a real complete year from a playing and scoring and production standpoint. So they all helped this year. But in the end do we need a big-time forward? Yeah. I would like to have that. It’s not easy to get that, and we’ll continue to search for that.”
Boskovic made just 12 starts (26 appearances) yet finished the year second in assists with seven, and he started all four of D.C. United’s playoff games, even if it was in part due to a depleted roster. He also turned down the opportunity to represent his country in World Cup qualifying in order to help D.C. United return to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. During the regular season stretch run, he scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Chivas USA and had the game-winning assist in United’s playoff clinching 3-2 victory over Columbus.
“It’s important that Branko return to Europe to be with his family at this time and thus we are mutually terminating his contract,” said D.C. United General Manager Dave Kasper in a statement. “We thank Branko for all of his efforts with United, including some wonderful performances this year that helped us achieve post-season play. We wish Branko all the best in his future endeavors.”
After being signed in the summer of 2010, during the worst season in D.C. United’s history, Boskovic’s send-off was fitting. He played back-to-back 90-minute games for the first time all year in the Eastern Conference finals against Houston after Olsen had cited his fitness issues throughout the season. He also scored D.C. United’s final goal of the year in the second leg’s 1-1 draw.