D.C. United's Acquisitions Put Back Line on Front Burner

Julius James (3) is expected to join D.C. United in time for Saturday's game at Toronto, one day after Houston traded him for a draft pick.
Julius James (3) is expected to join D.C. United in time for Saturday's game at Toronto, one day after Houston traded him for a draft pick. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 15, 2009

With the busiest stretch of the year looming, D.C. United bolstered its thin defensive corps Friday by acquiring second-year pro Julius James in a trade with the Houston Dynamo and signing David Habarugira from the Belgian league.

James, acquired for a third-round draft pick in 2012, is scheduled to join United in time for Saturday afternoon's match at Toronto FC. Habarugira will meet the club in Honduras before Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League game against Marathon.

United had one roster opening and created another by placing forward Ange N'Silu on the injured list with a strained hamstring. He will be sidelined at least six league games.

James, 25, and Habarugira, who turns 21 Sunday, will provide reinforcement to a D.C. squad that will play 10 matches in 31 days -- six in MLS, three in the Champions League, plus the U.S. Open Cup final -- and is coping with injuries and suspensions.

Midfielder Ben Olsen, who surpassed MLS's yellow card limit, is ineligible Saturday and midfielder Fred (red card against Salvadoran club Firpo) will sit out Tuesday. Midfielder-forward Chris Pontius (strained quadriceps) will miss both games and midfielder-forward Thabiso Khumalo (broken wrist) remains out.

On a brighter note, midfielder-forward Santino Quaranta and defender Bryan Namoff, both of whom missed the Real Madrid friendly last Sunday with hamstring injuries, have been upgraded to probable against Toronto, and midfielder Clyde Simms is back from hernia surgery.

James, a Trinidadian who starred at the University of Connecticut, began his career with Toronto after being selected ninth overall in the 2008 MLS draft. He made 13 league appearances and 10 starts before being part of the trade that sent perennial all-star midfielder Dwayne De Rosario to the Canadian club.

In Houston this year, James appeared in eight MLS matches and started five. Though he has played on the outside, he is probably best suited for a central role. Dejan Jakovic and Greg Janicki are United's only pure center backs.

"I don't think [James] has reached his potential," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "We have to make sure we get him back to where he was with his [foot skills]. I think we can make him better with the ball."

United has high hopes for Habarugira, who impressed the coaching staff in training sessions a few weeks ago before returning to Europe while negotiations proceeded. He was cleared for a work visa this week.

"He is pretty versatile, pretty polished," Soehn said of Habarugira, who rose through the respected Anderlecht youth system in Belgium before being loaned to a second-division club. He also represented Burundi's national team in World Cup qualifying. With United, he could play anywhere on the back line or bolster the defensive midfield.

More acquisitions are likely, necessitating additional roster moves. Midfielder-forward Tiyi Shipalane is expected to arrive on loan from the third-division Harrisburg City Islanders when the USL2 season ends this month and Liberian forward Adam Smarte, who was with the San Jose Earthquakes last year, remains under consideration after a tryout this week.

United's primary concerns, however, are the next two matches -- three days and thousands of miles apart. After the Toronto game, the team will travel Sunday to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, via Miami in two groups because not enough seats were available on single flights. Olsen and Habarugira will join the team in Central America, while Fred will return to Washington to serve his suspension.

After facing Marathon in the first of six Champions League group matches, United will fly back to Washington to prepare for David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy next Saturday at RFK Stadium.

"Guys can't do three games in a row [in eight days]; it's impossible," Soehn said. "You are setting them up to hurt themselves. We are going to have to manage, and we're trying to make our roster as deep and strong as we can to get through this stretch so we can count on everybody. That's why we are making pretty aggressive moves to make sure we can handle it the best way we can."

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