Thirteen months ago, Julius James was traded from Houston to D.C. United and immediately flew to Toronto to join his new club. At the time, United were so shorthanded that he made his first appearance – a second-half substitution for Bryan Namoff in a 2-0 loss to Toronto FC – before he’d even learned his teammates’ names.
James’ second return to BMO Field, the place where he began his MLS career before being shipped out to the Dynamo as a makeweight in the Dwayne De Rosario trade in December 2008, unfolded in far more compelling fashion on Saturday afternoon.
The Trinidadian defender worked doggedly to limit De Rosario and the TFC front line, then horrified TFC's capacity crowd with a coolly taken finish in the 81st minute to deliver United a rare 1-0 win.
WATCH: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
“It’s a relief," James said. "It relieves us from a lot of pressure because you know [how] the season is going — we have a lot of injuries, not getting bounces our way. We’re just really happy right now to have a game under our belts.”
Victories of any sort have been rare for DC this season, but dramatic late triumphs have been a particularly scarce commodity. The Black-and-Red have not scored a goal after the 80th minute of a match since their 2-1 US Open Cup overtime win over Real Salt Lake more than three months ago.
Yet again, United’s midfield played well only for the strike force to spurn a variety of good scoring opportunities, leaving it to James to play the hero against the team that drafted him in the first round of the 2008 SuperDraft.
“It’s just positive for us that we’re creating chances," goalkeeper Troy Perkins said. "We’re not scoring them, but we’re still creating them, and that’s the difference right now."
The goal, and the win, represents vindication for 26-year-old James, who was originally told he was part of Toronto’s long-term plans only to end up playing for three teams in his first two seasons as a pro.
James has scored only three career MLS goals, but seems to possess a flair for the dramatic when he does find the net. His last tally was a header in the final moments of last year’s DC season finale in Kansas City, where he played through a strained hamstring to score the goal that nearly sent United into the playoffs.
The result gives last-place United a valuable confidence boost, but it represents a massive letdown for Toronto, a playoff-chasing side who can ill afford to drop points at home.
Though De Rosario deserved better when his fine solo effort clanged off the base of Perkins’ left-hand post in the game’s opening stages, the Reds’ overall display was underwhelming and the home faithful made their displeasure known after the final whistle.
With Houston, Colorado, San Jose, Chicago as well as a rematch with TFC on their remaining schedule, DC will have several more opportunities to spoil opponents’ postseason ambition this fall. It’s a role that interim head coach Ben Olsen is likely to embrace as he tries to conclude United’s difficult campaign on a few high notes.
“For me, I’m proud of the guys for the fact that we missed a couple really good changes, and in the past we haven’t found a way to win, and we found a way to win it tonight," Olsen said.
"I’m relieved that they get to enjoy the fruits of their labor a little bit. They’ve worked hard the last month or two, they’ve done everything we’ve asked, but sometimes it just didn’t go in for us.”