Julius James: ‘It’s tough, it’s tough to give up a goal when you know you should have taken care of business.’ (Matthew Levine Photo)
By Michael Lewis
For Julius James, life in soccer is about winning, goose eggs and giving back. And not always necessarily in that order.
As a veteran center back who has been around the block domestically and internationally, the 34-year-old James know what his priority will be Saturday night:
Goose eggs would be nice.
And giving back, well, that would come later.
Julius James doesn’t want to give anything up. He is, after all, a defender and he doesn’t like to see the opposition celebrating a goal. The former Trinidad & Tobago international would rather do his celebrating after recording a clean sheet.
“As a defender, having that zero on the board — we call it the goose egg — it shows the course of work,” James said in an interview earlier this week. “Obviously, you are happy as a team, happy to win a championship and everything. Scoring a goal to a striker and winning the game is as just as much as having a goose egg or making that amazing tackle or stopping the ball off the line. Those kind of things get defenders going.”
At one time in his career, James once took conceding goals personally, very personally, but he has learned to put it in the past because not every game can finish with a clean sheet.
“It’s tough, it’s tough to give up a goal when you know you should have taken care of business,” he said. “When I was younger, I used to take every single goal scored personally and now that I am older, I try to analyze what I could have done better in scenarios where I could have helped prevent a goal.
“I think four, five, six, seven steps before the goal and if there’s something I could have done. I don’t vacillate over it too much. Vacillation is a bit short for me because the game is always going forward. You have to think about the next play.”
The next play for James and his teammates will be the kickoff of the National Premier Soccer League final against Miami FC at Ranger Stadium on the campus of Drew University in Madison, N.J.
Back in the spring, James had no inclination that he would be playing with FC Motown in a championship game. He had signed to play with expansion team Atlantic City FC.
“Things did not work out down there,” James said. “Just not very good business.”
He wound up contacting former Columbus Crew SC midfielder Dilly Duka, who had signed with another expansion team — FC Motown. That opened the door.
“When I first came, I had just one practice with the team,” James said. “We talked to each other, got to know each other. It was a really good fit, a really good fit.
“When I step onto a team my goal is to win trophies. So I try to do whatever I could to do to help myself, more the team than myself, to help the team to get it done. I have to evolve in any way to do that and help in guys in communication and getting the information to players that the coach wants certain guys to remember during a game. If there is anything like I can do to help the team win, then I am all game.”
James has won his share of titles. That includes a few Big East championships with the University of Connecticut, a few trophies back home in Trinidad & Tobago and the 2014 North American Soccer League crown with the San Antonio Scorpions. He also prided himself as being part of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers side that defeated D.C. United and Orlando City SC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup before falling to the host Chicago Fire in the quarterfinals.
“I always pride myself in trying to improve the team that I play for,” he said. “If you look at the track record of the teams where I have constant minutes, we always do pretty well. I try my best to help the team the best i could to win championships.”
That fine to head coach Sacir Hot, who felt the 6-foot, 180-lb. James was vital to FC Motown’s success. With James guarding the middle of the backline with Hani Nasr, the Morristown, N.J. club allowed only five regular-season goals in 10 matches and registered seven shutouts.
“Julius has been a missing piece of Motown in the past years,” Hot said. “In the last two or three years I have been coach of FC Motown, we were never known for having a solid defense. We were known for scoring a lot of goals. If you look at some of our results in the Garden State League and all the tournaments that we played, it’s always been a 6-4 or something.
“So, having Julius on our team brings us that leadership in the back. He kind of jells the team. He’s outspoken. He has a voice. He’s a branch of me as the coach. Whatever the game plan is, he makes sure the defense executes it and follows and stays on in that direction.”
Nasr, who earned Northeast Region XI honors playing next to James, can attest to that.
“I can’t really begin to explain how much he’s taught me,” he said. “Out of all of the guys on the team he’s probably the most vocal and to be there next to him learning directly from him has been great. When I was coming into the team I was a little bit nervous just because everybody on the team pretty much had played at the professional or at a high level for a long time. Not that I doubted my abilities, you just have get used to the team and stepping up for a level of competition. He has been great since day one, talking to me, telling me how I can improve my positioning, various ways manipulating the opposition. Now I just see the game in a completely different way and I have to give a lot of thanks to Julius for that.”
Win, lose, draw or tie-break, James has another passion, which helped attract him to FC Motown” giving back, giving back to the community. For him, the community is northern Jersey and T&T.
“What is so cool about FC Motown is that … it goes along with my drive to be the community,” he said.
“The owners and the players, we want to be in the community, we want to be in the camps, spend time with the kids, want to go to the orphanages and hospitals. We want to give back to the community. We just don’t want to be a team that just plays and have the fans come out. We want to be part of the community. We want to be ingrained into the community. So that is something extra special to me about the team.”
With some friends back in Trinidad in May, James created the Can Bou Play Foundation, which includes mentoring and education programs at schools and establishing educational programs with an emphasis on sports.
“We go to communities, we go to orphanages, we go to high schools, secondary schools, we go to at risk communities at schools, special needs,” James said. “We try to touch as many kids as we could. It’s based on mentorship program. We play soccer, we coach them, and we give them a little bit about our lives, ups and downs. This is what I am trying to do over here with FC Motown to be in the communities. This is basically what my brothers and I do back home in Trinidad & Tobago.”
FC Motown is a partner with the foundation as the club collects used boots for children on the Caribbean island.
“Even though things may not be going the best for them at this point in their lives, there are still people who care about them,” James said. “I’m so happy. Something like this with the foundation makes me just as happy playing football.”
Which is something that James hopes to do for quite some time. Since graduating UConn in 2007, he has performed in five soccer leagues in the United States. His teams include the Westchester Flames (Premier Development League), Sacramento Republic (United Soccer League), Minnesota Thunder, Carolina RailHawks, San Antonio Scorpions and Fort Lauderdale Strikers (all NASL), Toronto FC, Houston Dynamo, D.C. United, Columbus Crew (all Major League Soccer) and of course, FC Motown (NPSL).
For the record, that’s 11 teams in 2006.
James? He just wants to play until his body says otherwise.
“The game of soccer is always evolving,” he said. “You can never stop learning about the game because there are so many different schools of thought about the game and all of these schools of thought can be thought of at 11 different positions including the layers on the bench and the coach and management. There are so many parts of the game, so many turning wheels. when you think about all of that and the ability to use your body to do it, to keep in shape, to keep your mind sharp, and your level of thinking and to think faster. If I could sit down really and give you all, I’m not sure I will have enough time. There’s so much to learn and the more you learn the more you realize that there’s still more to learn.”
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