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.