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
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
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
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!