OBETZ, Ohio – Julius James is so close, yet still so far away from returning after offseason reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder.
The Columbus Crew defender is able to stretch with the team before practice but after that he goes inside the training facility to rehab on his own. Once completed, he usually watches the end of the training session from the sideline.
“To warm up a little and not be able to train is ... just difficult,” James said.
There is no timetable for his comeback but the original diagnosis was that he’d miss three or four games. The Crew play their second game on Saturday when they host Montreal in the club’s home opener, but James will likely need another month before he is ready to play.
“He is anxious to be back but we have to be smart,” head coach Robert Warzycha said. “He does some things on the field but he’s not going to be cleared soon.”
James is pushing to get back but he knows it has to be done with caution.
“We’re taking all the necessary steps to make sure I’m healing properly and doing all the exercises we can to strengthen it,” he said. “Unfortunately with this surgery, there is a time period you have to wait for your body to heal up.”
A milestone was reached last week when he fell on the shoulder and got up without pain.
“That shows the surgery was a success,” James said.
Forward Olman Vargas, in the running to start alongside Emilio Rentería against the Impact after Rentería went solo in the 2-0 loss to the Rapids, appeared to twist his ankle during Thursday’s practice, but Warzycha said he is OK.
Montenegrin left back Nemanja Vukovic trained Thursday, a day after signing with the Crew, and may be available for selection on Saturday. Shaun Francis is expected to start.
Rookie Ethan Finlay has worked with the first team much of the past two weeks in the absence of Dilly Duka, who sprained his ankle in the season opener. However, Bernardo Anor took his spot at left midfield during Thursday’s practice.
Finlay has struggled at times during training – zigging when the coaches want him zagging and generally looking like the first-year player he is.
“You hope he is mentally strong and he can take it,” Warzycha said. “He works so hard so you have to appreciate that.
“He wants to stay busy on the field. Obviously sometimes he is making the wrong decision, but with more games he’s going to figure it out,” the manager added. “The other thing is we need Anor and [Justin] Meram and obviously Duka to compete for that spot.”
Meram is coming off an ankle sprain for a month but will be available on Saturday, while forward Tommy Heinemann is out due to a knee injury.