Many players find it difficult to get excited about the postseason practices currently being conducted by D.C. United and several other MLS sides not involved in the playoffs.
But these ‘lame-duck’ training sessions have real value for Julius James and other Caribbean internationals who are still participating in important matches for their countries. James is one of several MLS players involved in the Digicel Caribbean Cup, the regional competition whose top four finishers earn berths in next summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
United’s 26-year-old center back recently returned to Washington after playing a major role in Trinidad & Tobago’s successful qualification for the tournament’s final round, which takes place in Martinique at the end of November.
“Yeah, it works out perfectly for me because right now [national team] camp is broken and they’re not training together but once or twice per week,” James said on Wednesday. “There’s supposed to be a foreign international game on [November] 17 – they were hoping that if I go back for that, then I could stay through until the tournament in Martinique. So I’ll have a talk with the [United] front office, the coaches and we’ll see.”
Head coach Russell Latapy has been under pressure to improve the Soca Warriors’ results this fall, and his decision to build his back line around James and LA Galaxy youngster Yohance Marshall seems to have paid off. T&T are well-placed to qualify for the 2011 Gold Cup after missing out on the 2009 edition. And in contrast to the nation’s 2006 World Cup squad, they’ve done so with a youthful core.
During his playing days, Latapy was almost as famous for his postgame partying as for his skill on the ball. But the former Scottish Premier League star has crafted a positive team spirit among the next generation of T&T internationals and he’s called on James to play a leading role in the team’s growth.
“[When I was] growing up, he was legendary,” James said. “His nickname is ‘Magic,’ because the stuff he does with the ball is pretty amazing. It’s good having him as a coach, it’s good being under a legendary guy like that. He instills discipline in the team – he’s pretty laid-back but he strikes the right balance. He gets the guys to do what he wants to do.”
The San Jose Earthquakes’ deep playoff run has precluded Latapy from calling on Scott Sealy for Caribbean Cup duty. But add in a few more players of their quality and it’s not hard to imagine the Soca Warriors making some noise in CONCACAF’s showpiece tournament next summer.
That’s the vision that motivates James and his countrymen, and after his encouraging progress with United this season, he’s eager to inspire revivals for both club and country in 2011.
“The older guys are gone,” James noted. “I thanked [Latapy] for the opportunity that he gave to me, and he replied and said, ‘You know, you’re one of the top guys on the team now,’ and I took that as I have to work very hard to help out the team and do everything that I can.”