Tampa Bay Sports Day

DC United will integrate new signings gradually

Pablo Hernandez and Branko Boskovic are both seemingly done deals for DC United as they await their International Transfer Certificates to be completed when the July 15th transfer window officially opens. Boskovic will have Designated Player status and signed a two year deal while Hernandez, 23, is on loan from Uruguay first division side Defensor Sporting.

United in some ways were very fortunate to sign Hernandez when several suitors from Mexico and Europe backed off after he broke his fifth metatarsal late last season. However, after meeting with General Manager Dave Kasper and Head Coach Curt Onalfo in January, the two said they have no concerns, after courting the up and coming forward for over a year and a half.

The signings add two dynamic creative options that he can blend into a midfield and attack that has been playing fairly well of late. Plus a crowded but favorable schedule over the next few weeks gives Onalfo the ability to integrate the two players into the side efficiently, especially Boskovic, who has not played since May and will need to acclimate himself to the stifling heat.

“The timing of that is very, very good,” said Onalfo regarding the schedule. “Those are perfect opportunities to incorporate him into our group and between now and then, get him the fitness base that he needs because in many ways it’s a pre-season for him so we have to bring him along intelligently and then find a way to incorporate him into our group and if we continue to play well in the midfield like we are, there is less urgency.”

United hosts a U.S. Open Cup match against lower level Harrisburg (PA) on July 21st and have a friendly against English side Portsmouth on July 24th.

“There is always that balance of having a system and players dictating systems and for us we have a real clear way of playing right now and we are successful with it so we are not going to change that but having said that, with every game we have to be able to adapt,” Onalfo said. “We have been playing very well through the midfield but the other turn to that is competition is a great motivator and we need guys performing to their potential for 90-minutes and if they are not, you can switch it out if you have depth.”

“Anytime you bring a new player into the group you want to incorporate him intelligently so that he is accepted by the group and then also you want to bring him along physically and then make sure they have enough time to understand how you want to play tactically. But it’s a good challenge to have when you bring good players into your team,” Onalfo continued.

Boskovic, 30, captained the Montenegro National Team during their recent World Cup qualifying run and has played across Europe, most notably for Red Star Belgrade in Serbia and Paris Saint-Germaine in the French first division. He made his name primarily with Red Star, where United defender Dejan Jakovic also played, scoring 30 goals in 123 matches from 1999-2003.

“He is a very skillful, attacking midfielder. He can play on the left, he can play in the middle, he understands how to move defensively, he just adds quality to the team,” Onalfo said. “But he’s coming from not having played in a while and it’s 100 degrees and when you are European, that’s a big adjustment.”

Playing in often unbearable heat in places like Dallas and Kansas City is perhaps the most under-appreciated factor as to why not as many Europeans have ventured over to play in the United States.

“It’s very hot. I heard it’s 40-45 degrees (Celsius) and in my country it’s about 35 max,” said a smiling Boskovic. “I am not physically very good (right now) and from what I see the level of training is high. Everybody runs and the tempo is good and I need to prepare very well for this season… We will see but I usually play on the left side of middle (midfield) and sometimes on the line but we will see, the coach is the man that will decide this.”

Onalfo plans to integrate him into the side far slower than Hernandez.

“Hopefully he gets his ITC as quickly as possible but he is a guy we are going to take our time with,” Onalfo said. “It’s not going to be one of these things where, boom, all of a sudden we just throw him into the fire; we need to acclimate him slowly whereas Hernandez is a little bit of a different situation because he’s been here longer.”

Hernandez is a lean, athletic primarily left-footed forward who Onalfo sees providing many assets United has lacked most of the season.

“He’s a forward, he’s got a great left foot, he’s got the ability to score goals, he’s got the ability to set up plays, he’s got the ability to kind of control the rhythm of the game and he is also good on set pieces; both from serving corners and free kicks wide but also scoring off free kicks which is something that we haven’t been a threat all year,” said Onalfo.

“So it’s just a matter of how quickly he adapts. Anytime a guy comes from South America or Central America there is an adaptation and how quickly can he adapt is the question.”

“They are used to a more technical game. Our league is physical. It’s a hundred miles an hour; it’s roll up your sleeves and fight and then once you’ve done that, you have earned the right to play,” Onalfo continued. “We are working in the small sides games about staying tuned in on both sides of the ball and he is responding well. He’s been here almost a month and he has gotten better with each day, especially the last two weeks.”