For all their struggles with consistency in the attack this season, few can complain about New York City FC’s defensive performance in 2020. With the longtime partnership of center backs Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens still going strong, the duo have only conceded 10 goals in 14 matches played — good for 0.71 goals conceded each game. The Luxembourgish-Peruvian combination has also collected five clean sheets on the season in those 14 games.
To say the least, the argument can be made that NYCFC’s usual center back pairing is among MLS’s elite. But unfortunately, that pairing will be brought to a temporary end for NYCFC’s October 3 matchup against expansion side Inter Miami due to Callens being suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
Callens’ enforced absence from play has brought up the question of who should be tasked with replacing him on the backline against Miami. The like-for-like change that people would expect would most likely be Sebastien Ibeagha, NYCFC’s longtime platoon center back. But in my humble opinion, Homegrown Player James Sands should be the one to get the shout on Saturday. And here’s why.
Inter Miami aren’t the same team they were the last time they faced NYCFC — a 1-0 win for City on July 20 in the MLS is Back Tournament. Since then, the Herons have added veterans Blaise Matuidi and Gonzalo Higuain to their roster.
Now, I know what you’re thinking — neither Miami or Higuain looked great in the latter’s MSL debut, which was a 3-0 loss to a young Philadelphia Union team in which the former Juventus striker skied a penalty kick. But by that same token, players as accomplished as Higauin and Matuidi are surely capable of compartmentalizing such poor performances and will undoubtedly be gunning for redemption next time out. And because of their experience and reputations within the modern scope of the game, Miami as a whole could rally around those two.
With that said, NYCFC are going to need a match-fit defender to cope with a hungry attack that is desperate to get things going. As of right now, Ibeagha has only appeared twice all season for a combined 54 minutes. And while I do see value in building up Seb to feature more in the future, I’m not sure if this is the right game for him to start a full 90.
I see much more value in James Sands featuring next to Chanot in the back four with either Cacha Acevedo entering into the defensive midfield or Alexander Ring — should he be healthy — dropping back from the left wing position.
At only 20 years old, Sands has quickly been identified as one of MLS’s best young talents. There is no one I could trust more against a world class striker.