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FreeKick with Julius James

The Columbus Crew has had a long history with players from Trinidad and Tobago. Ansil Elcock, Cornell Glen and, most notably, Stern John, among others, are a vivid part of the Crew’s rich history. Another Trinidadian is now making his mark with the Black & Gold.

After splitting the last three seasons between four teams, Julius James arrived in Columbus at the end of preseason and immediately made an impact with the Crew’s defense. The 6-0, 180-pound center back stepped right into the starting lineup and helped the club post a franchise-record 414 consecutive shutout minutes and four straight complete shutouts.

We sat down with James and discussed his career, the Trinidad and Tobago National Team, Columbus, his personal heroes and how he once wished he was Italian.

Crew Communications: You’re from Trinidad and Tobago and the Crew has had quite a rich history of Trinidadians playing in Columbus. Were you aware of that tradition?

Julius James: I knew about Stern John’s success here before he went to Europe. I know Cornell [Glen] and played with him in Trinidad and I played against [Ansil] Elcock in a scrimmage back home.

CC: You came to the United States to go to UConn in 2004. Was it difficult to leave your family behind and move to Connecticut?

JJ: When I was in Trinidad I was already part of a national team residency program, so it wasn’t as difficult as you would think. It took a little longer to adjust to the climate and to speak slowly and water down my accent so that people could understand me. I really enjoyed the college experience, though.

CC: You were drafted by Toronto FC in the first round (No. 9 overall) of the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, but didn’t see a lot of playing time there in your first year in the league. What was that like for you?

JJ: When I was drafted, I knew that there was always a possibility of things not being what you want them to be, and after a great preseason I got two back-to-back injuries. That didn’t help me much in terms of being a starter, so it took me some time to get back from my injuries and to turn into the player that I wanted to be.

CC: You made your professional debut for TFC against the LA Galaxy on May 31, 2008 and scored the game-winner. What do you remember most about that?

JJ: It was a surreal feeling because I had been fighting all season to be in the starting lineup and they brought in an older guy in front of me who got injured about 10-15 minutes into the game. In that sense it was a struggle because there were always guys who were brought in ahead of me in the depth chart. It was tough, because I knew I could play at a better level than some of them. It was a blessing from God that I got my opportunity. My scoring the goal was almost divine intervention because I was at a low point and the goal gave me the boost and the confidence I needed.

CC: In 2009 you were traded to Houston before landing in D.C., where in 2010 you led your fellow defenders in minutes played.

JJ: I was traded [to Houston] for Dwayne De Rosario, so I would say that was my best trade in terms of value. Then when I got to D.C., I played in every game in 2009. The following year, I missed the first few games again because there was another couple of guys who [the coaching staff] felt were going to be a better fit for the team. I went in every day working very hard without complaining and I got my chance. Once I played the first game, I played the rest of the season and led the team in minutes.

CC: How was it to play for a former teammate as your coach?

JJ: When Ben [Olsen] became the head coach I was very happy for him. I vowed that I would give my all for him because I really liked him as a person and as a player. We had a great rapport and I did play my hardest for him – never giving up – for myself, my family and for Ben.

CC: DC’s loss is Columbus’ gain. You've played all but two games so far this season. How does it make you feel to be an important contributor on this new team?

JJ: I am really happy and I feel really blessed. I am a strong believer in God and I believe this is God’s doing.  There was a door that was shut and I felt disregarded, but as the saying goes: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. This exemplifies that saying. Not only did I find a team, but I found a team with a great group of people, with skillful and talented players. Everyone has been so nice to me and it feels like the perfect place to be.

CC: You mention you were in residency with the Trinidad and Tobago U-17 National Team and you have four caps with the first team. Where do you see the T&T soccer program now and where is it going?

JJ: It’s touch and go. We qualified for the World Cup [in 2006] and that is the highest level we achieved. I didn’t go there but I really want to go there one day. We have the potential to be the best team in the Caribbean, together with Jamaica. We have the ability to be top-ranked in the CONCACAF region and, even though I can’t pinpoint the reason, we always seem to fall short. There’s a lot of younger guys coming up and I think we can turn things around, but they need to introduce them into the team. We just got a new head coach and he’ll be in charge of doing that. I would like to get called in to the team and turn this new leaf with the national team. I think that in terms of center backs right now, I may have a good chance

CC: Who are your soccer heroes?

JJ: I love Fabio Cannavaro (the longtime Italian National Team captain and center back). When I was younger I was telling everyone that I was Italian because I loved how they played. I would tell everyone that I was born in Italy and that my parents adopted me. I loved how gutsy the Italian team defended and how strong they were. Dwight Yorke is another player I admired. He really carried the flag for Trinidadian soccer. I also liked (Dutch defender) Jaap Stam. When he played with Dwight Yorke at Manchester United, he caught my eye. He was a very solid player in the back line. Those are the guys who stood out to me growing up.

CC: Aside from God, who you’ve already mentioned, who are your heroes off the field?

JJ: My grandmother – I think she was an angel – and my parents as well. There are obviously icons that I would like to meet such as President Obama, but the first person that comes to mind in terms of a hero is my grandmother.

CC: What do you think of Columbus as a city?

JJ: I’m still getting to know it. It seems very interesting, but I haven’t had a chance to explore it much yet. I really like Grandview, which is where I live, and I like the Short North and Downtown areas. It is quite different from D.C., but I like it because it’s nice and ‘homey’ and the people are great and hospitable.

CC: Last question: Columbus Crew a contender for MLS Cup?

JJ: [without any hesitation] Yes!