James could prove valuable asset for Columbus

Newcomer a starting option as Crew head to RFK for opener

OBETZ, Ohio – Julius James may have found a new home with the Crew, and could play at his former residence in Saturday’s season opener.

The Trinidad international was cut by D.C. United in February but was signed by the Crew on Feb. 28 to add depth to the defense. Now, with center back Andy Iro recovering from a groin injury, the former University of Connecticut standout could be paired with Chad Marshall when the team opens the season at RFK Stadium.

“It’s a twist of fate that we are playing DC in the opener,” James said. “When one door closes, another door opens. Things worked out. I was without a team for only about 10 days.”

James scored two goals in 31 matches for D.C. United the past two seasons, and was surprised by his release. He said coach Ben Olsen told him he was expendable after the club was forced to sign goalkeeper Pat Onstad to a short-term contract after injuries to goalkeeper Steve Cronin.

“[Olsen] told me wasn’t going to play me in the season,” James said. “He thought it was the best move in my career and he needed a roster spot for a goalkeeper.”

The Crew was happy to take James, who has also played for Toronto FC and the Houston Dynamo.

“Look at the three clubs he played for,” Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. “He was a starter for all of them. He is a good player. He can help us a lot, especially because we lost [Eric] Brunner to the Expansion Draft. He brings a lot of experience.”

Injuries to Iro and left back Shaun Francis have opened the way for James to earn a spot in the starting lineup.

“Before they brought me in, they asked me if I’m comfortable being able to work from behind and compete because they have their guys already,” James said. “Obviously, everyone wants to start, but I don’t mind working on improving my game to become a starter. As [long] as I can help the group, I will do anything I can.”

Technical director Brian Bliss said James was acquired for more than cover in case of injuries.

“He’s a guy who’s going to fight for a starting spot, and if he’s not, he’s going to give us big time depth that we lost with Brunner,” said Bliss. “It’s not like he’s been a spot player for three years. He can start.”

James has speed that the Crew has lacked in the central defense, but he said he has other strengths.

“I am aggressive," he said. “I talk a lot. I like to organize. I really like bringing intensity to the game. In the game of soccer if you intensify your game the guys around you also intensify their game. It spreads like wildfire.”