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James Sands called up to USMNT for January camp

Will the defensive midfielder finally earn a spot on the national team?


James Sands is back with the USMNT, called up for the national team’s annual January camp and a planned friendly against Mitja Ilenic and Slovenia’s national team. 

Sands is one of the 25 MLS-based players called in by USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter, who will convene this all-domestic group for what many like to call “Camp Cupcake” in Orlando, Florida from January 8-16. The USMNT then heads to San Antonio, Texas to face Slovenia on January 20 at 

This camp, for Sands and the rest of the MLS cohort, is about making their case for inclusion on subsequent 2024 USMNT rosters for, say, the Nations League in March or Copa America in the summer. 

That would mean forcing one’s way into a roster alongside the European-based “first-choice” portion of the USMNT player pool, which Sands has yet to do, with Sands stuck on the proverbial bubble and not cracking one of Berhalter’s first-choice rosters since the World Cup qualifiers in March 2022.

The move back from Rangers in Scotland to NYCFC in March 2023 seemed to help Sands in the eyes of the USMNT, as he appeared for his country six times in 2023, bringing his total up to 13 caps with the national team to date.

Interestingly, the announcement of Sands’ inclusion on this January’s roster lists him among the defenders. Sands functioned exclusively as a defensive midfielder for the USMNT during their run to the 2023 Gold Cup semifinals, excelling and earning a place in the Best XI for the group stage of that tournament. 

He’s similarly been entrenched in the NYCFC midfield since 2023, save for a handful of matches when the club’s options in central defense were limited by injury or international absence. 

The timing of Sands’ national team call-up coincides with the start of NYCFC’s preseason, as the club just announced it will begin its preparations in Florida on Monday, January 15, playing one friendly in the Sunshine State before heading to the Coachella Valley Invitational for three preseason matches in mid-February.

Sands and his teammate-turned-opponent on January 20, Mitja Ilenič, look set to be late arrivals to Nick Cushing’s NYCFC preseason camp, but they’ll each be busy getting another chance to showcase themselves for more international call-ups.