Julius James is going to fill some notebooks this season. The Crew coaching staff hopes they belong to reporters and not referees.
The central defender doesn't deal in sports clichs or soft plays. He is a supplier of strong sound bites and muscular challenges.
"I love hunting the ball, I love winning the ball, I love making big defensive plays," James said.
"Sometimes, you are called on to be the aggressor, and believe it or not, aggression spreads like wildfire through a team. Strikers don't like that aggression. They don't like when you bite them on the ankles."
Not literally, of course. But one possible reason the 26-year-old is playing for his fourth Major League Soccer club in as many seasons is because he can blur the line between tenacious and reckless.
James is prone to mistakes that can lead to a referee's booking, dangerous free kicks and other scoring chances.
"He is an aggressive player, and sometimes he can be too aggressive," Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. "We have talked about it to him."
Through six games, the club is pleased with the controlled chaos James is creating. Playing alongside shutdown defender Chad Marshall, James has helped the Crew limit opponents to one goal in the past five games.
The Crew (2-1-3) plays host to the Vancouver Whitecaps (1-3-3) on Saturday.
James has collected three yellow cards - tying him for second in the league with seven others - but cautions come with the territory of defending. He has received 11 yellows in 58 career MLS games.
The Crew likes the discipline and poise James is exhibiting. He is comfortable with the ball on either foot, and he's capable of making reliable first passes to his midfielders.
But it's his ability to win balls and crowd opposing strikers that keeps him in the lineup. He can track small, speedy forwards and match the physical play of larger ones.
James played perhaps his best game against Sporting Kansas City and potent forward Teal Bunbury in a 1-0 win on April 16. Bunbury was barely noticeable.
"Individually, the guy is just a beast," Marshall said. "I have never seen someone so strong on the ball. He holds people off real well. He turns well out of pressure and gets us out of sticky situations."
One of Marshall's greatest strengths is the body control he demonstrates while making challenges. James understands there's much to learn from the two-time MLS Defender of the Year.
"It's a blessing to get the opportunity to play with someone of Chad's caliber," he said.
James hopes to find a home in Columbus. He has played for Toronto, Houston and D.C. since 2008.
An athlete so well traveled can raise red flags, but Warzycha said the club's MLS sources characterized James as a good teammate and citizen. He was waived by D.C. in February despite leading the team in minutes played by a defender last season.
"I was shocked by their decision," James said. "But (teams) move us around like pawns on a chessboard. I feel like I'm in a better place spiritually and on the field."
James happy to be part of the ‘Crew’
By: Shaun Fuentes.
Columbus Crew head coach Robert Warzycha has admitted he was left wondering why defender Julius James was bounced around from team to team in the American MLS.
James, 26, has been to four different clubs since 2008, having played at Toronto FC, Houston Dynamo and DC United. He was released by DC last season despite leading the team in minutes on the field.
He was deemed expendable by DC head coach Ben Olsen. Warzycha said the other clubs’ loss was Crew’s gain.
The likes of Ansil Elcock and Stern John have also been favourites with the Crew while Cornell Glen has also featured there.
“It comes to your mind with any deal,” he said. “I remember when he played for DC how hard it was to play against him.
Every single coach is going to tell you whatever doesn’t work on the other team I can fix it. This is the same thing here.”
James said he has questioned his capabilities at times having been asked to move from club to club but is now settled with the rest of the “Crew”.
“You tend to look at yourself to see exactly what you’ve been doing wrong,” the national team defender said.
“I never could look in the mirror and say I’ve been a bad teammate or a bad person, bad for the locker room, a bad player.
After a while, you just get strong mentally and take it as a new door opening. That’s why I took this opportunity.”