In the lead-up to D.C. United's home match against the Los Angeles Galaxy last week, someone asked Julius James about the memories of his professional debut, a May 31, 2008 contest against the Galaxy that saw James score the game-winning goal for his team at the time, Toronto FC.
"That was ages ago, seems like," sighed the young Trinidadian with a smile.
James has lived a fairly nomadic existence since that promising start to his pro career, having been traded twice in the ensuing 15 months largely due to factors beyond his control.
Drafted by TFC with the ninth overall selection of the 2008 SuperDraft, the former University of Connecticut standout was seen as one of the more gifted defenders in that year's crop and he logged 899 minutes for the Reds as a rookie. But when Toronto's long-standing desire to bring Canadian international Dwayne De Rosario back to play for his hometown club finally edged towards fruition in the offseason, James became a makeweight in the trade that brought "DeRo" north from Houston.
Despite Dynamo's enviable array of backline options, James was working his way into significant playing time when he was suddenly told that he'd been shipped to D.C. United in exchange for a 2012 draft pick on August 14. He didn't even get to set eyes on his new home city before making his first United appearance, as he flew directly from Texas to Toronto for a league match with TFC the following day.
The levelheaded 25-year-old admits to being weary of the upheaval, but recognizes it as part and parcel of his profession.
"This is MLS, you know? You get thrown around, you have to leave the next day and pack up -- thank God I don't have a wife and kids, I'd have to pack up my whole house and everything," said James last week. "It could be a hit to my confidence -- I could either pack it in and feel low in confidence, or just go out and express myself and be passionate about the sport, and just think about football."
James would earn his first start for the Black-and-Red on the second leg of that same road trip, playing 90 minutes at center back in a CONCACAF Champions League match against CD Marathon in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
It was a difficult situation for the young defender: United coach Tom Soehn elected to re-arrange his side into a more conservative formation given the draining travel and hostile environment, and had just one brief training session to do so. But the D.C. boss gave his new arrival a welcome vote of confidence on the eve of the match.
"He made me feel really comfortable," said James. "Before my first game in Honduras, he came to me and was like, 'Julius, I know you've been to other teams and this is a fresh start. You go out there and be vocal, show us what you can do.' ... They believe in me and that feels really good."
The 3-1 loss to Marathon was a bitter pill for United, although their four-man back line performed surprisingly well as a unit, especially considering that James and right back David Habarugira were newcomers to the first XI. Avery John was also a member of the D.C. defense that evening and the well-traveled left back saw plenty of promise in James' display.
"He still has a lot to learn -- you can still get a lot from him," said John of his younger countryman. The two have also trained together on the Trinidad and Tobago national team.
"I'm expecting to see a lot from Julius. This is his third team in two years and he really needs to settle down. I hope the opportunity comes for him where he can just be with one team and play regularly, constantly. It will help him developing and I think it would be a great benefit for the team."
James must battle for playing time in United's 3-5-2 system, where the back line spots typically feature incumbents Bryan Namoff and Marc Burch along with talented Canadian international Dejan Jakovic. The club's intense international schedule has already required squad rotation, however, and Soehn's well-established desire for competition on the training ground should open doors if he can maintain a high level of play.
Of course, there's also the pressing matter of D.C.'s indifferent string of results this summer. Changes will be inevitable if the team doesn't arrest its recent winless slump.
"I know I'll become a better player here. I just would very much welcome the opportunity to play," said James. "I like the pressure situations, and right now the team is under a lot of pressure, so we're just all trying to stick together and come out with some results."