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MLS All-Star Profile: James Sands

New York City’s very own makes his first MLS All-Star appearance!

MLS: New York City FC at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

After his excellent and integral showing at the Gold Cup, national media began to realize what we knew all along: James Sands is an absolute baller!

His selection to 2021 All-Star Game is another accomplishment on his already impressive resume that includes being a National Academy Champion and NYCFC’s first ever homegrown signing. Enjoy this wholesome video of Andres Jasson and Keaton Parks letting Sands know he was going to be an All-Star.

The story of James Sands at New York City is set to be rather historic one. Becoming the first of what looks to be many talented academy graduates, Sands is the poster boy for the new MLS development model. Nurturing young, local, homegrown talent seems to be a priority in the Bronx as the likes of Gio Reyna and Joe Scally are making noise in Europe, playing for top German clubs. Sands will inevitably look to make that move soon, but I try not to think about that as I value my mental health.

The Rye, NY native began his journey with the club in 2015 where he was selected for the inaugural U-16 side. From his impressive performances with the developmental teams, Sands was continuously called upon to represent the United States at a youth level as well. In 2017, he became NYCFC’s first ever homegrown signing. Given his senior debut by Patrick Vieira in September of 2017, the future continued to look bright for Sands as he led the developmental side to a National Championship. In that match, after a goalless 120 minutes, Sands stepped up and buried the winning penalty. Never in doubt.

These type of moments have come to define the young career of James Sands and his recent rise is only affirmation of the work he has done to this point.

Short and sweet, the kid’s got the stuff.

The most important part of Sands’ game is no doubt his versatility. It is a trait that will likely see him included in Gregg Berhalter’s 27-man roster for World Cup Qualifying that is set to be released this week. By versatility, I don’t only mean his knack for doing a variety of different things well on a soccer pitch, but also his capacity to play numerous different positions. His do-it-all nature is a priceless asset for a manager, especially in the international game. See Gareth Southgate’s deployment of Kyle Walker at this summer’s European Championships for reference.

Sands can play the six and sit in front of a back four, destroy, build, and destroy some more. He can play in the middle of a back three, directing play out from the back sort of like a general. As he showed at the Gold Cup, he can also play... wherever the manager tells him to. While the US was in possession, he would often set up at the base of a 4-4-2 diamond and while out of it he dropped back in between the CB’s shifting into 5-3-2. This rotation is high level and truly speaks to Sand’s Swiss army knife persona.

Throughout the early stages of the competition, Sands was dominant defensively while also being his usual excellent self on the ball. He credits his national team performance to his coaching at New York City.

“We try and play a similar style to the national team, building from the back, playing through midfield, creating chances, all those sorts of things. So I think with the coaches I’ve had in New York, I felt like I had a good idea what Gregg [Berhalter] and the other national team coaches wanted. So I think that’s given me a bit of a leg up.”

At Yankee Stadium, Sands is often employed in the same types of ways — wherever the manager needs him. Sands looks to be an invaluable part of City’s aspirations this year as well. Whether that be occupying the middle of the park in the currently preferred 4-2-3-1 or as the middle CB in a 5-3-2/3-5-2, he will have a role to play. In regards to the former, I’d love to see an extended run of Sands and Keaton Parks as the two holding midfielders. They both have a toughness that would provide defensive cover while also having the quality to get forward. As for the latter, when and if Héber is fully fit, Sands could see his role change to accommodate the Brazilian’s return to the lineup. Either way, he has shown time and time again that wherever the manager needs him, he will play. You need those type of guys playing for your club.

All of these things, combined with moments such as Sands screaming in the Pumas Keeper’s face after scoring his penalty, makes him an easy guy to root for.

Congrats to one of our own, James Sands!