For some time now, the contributors here at Hudson River Blue have wondered why James Sands isn’t called up to the United States Men’s National Team more often. After all, The New York City FC defensive midfielder is one of the best Americans at his position. We were understandably excited to see that Sands wasn’t only called up to the national team, and was in the Starting XI for the USMNT vs Mexico friendly last night, he played the full 90 minutes — and was named the best player on the team by MLS.com.
The pundit Ben Wright was tasked with handing out player ratings for the USMNT, and he gave Sands a clean 7.0. That’s higher than the 5.5 handed to FC Dallas striker Jesús Ferreira, who scored the only goal for the United States in the 1-1 draw played at State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL. It was higher than the 5.5 given to goalkeeper Sean Johnson, the former NYCFC captain who gave up the bright lights of New York City for the mid-table comfort of Toronto FC.
To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t the most scintillating game: The United States didn’t manage a single shot in the first half. Temperatures always run a little hotter when it’s the USMNT vs Mexico, but this was a friendly in which both head coaches seemed less interested in a win than in auditioning players who are on the cusp of making their respective national teams. We’ll see which players from last night’s Starting XI will be named to the roster for the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer.
Sands is one of those players on the bubble. His appearance in the USMNT vs Mexico friendly is just his eighth cap for the United States. More importantly, it was arguably his best outing for the USMNT to date. Sands completed 90% of his passes, and made four accurate long balls. Sands did Sands things, distributing the ball though the midfield and keeping his cool under the pressure of the Mexican attack.
A performance like this one should give Sands a shot at getting a call-up from USMNT interim head coach Anthony Hudson in June. That’s when the United States will participate in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and the scoreline will matter.