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James Sands sees strong USMNT Gold Cup run end in semifinal defeat

James Sands and the United States men’s national team had their Concacaf Gold Cup come to a premature end.

The USMNT drew Panama 1-1 over 120 minutes, then fell to Los Canaleros 5-4 in a penalty shoot-out to decide the semifinal.

Sands now heads back to NYCFC after a grueling stretch of games operating at the base of the USMNT midfield.

He put in over 120 minutes against Panama tonight, with only two days of rest since the last time he played. That was another 120 minutes, when he helped the USMNT edge past Canada in a quarterfinal, and that was also decided by spot kicks. He also started all three USMNT matches in the group stage: The workload was heavy for the Guy from Rye while on international duty.

James Sands earns place in Gold Cup group stage Best XI

Unfortunately, a Gold Cup trophy repeat was not in the cards for Sands or the USMNT, as the slightly bizarre interim-to-the-interim managerial reign of BJ Callaghan ended with only one of a possible two summer trophies secured.

This is the first time the USMNT failed to reach the final of a Gold Cup since 2015, but the early exit has nothing to do with NYCFC’s sometimes-captain and first-ever Homegrown player. In fact, BJ Callaghan can easily be second-guessed for not including Sands in his penalty kick rotation in either shootout against Canada or Panama—he’s made big spot kicks under pressure before, after all.

Shoot-out second guessing aside, James Sands was one of the few players who consistently stood out for the USMNT during this Gold Cup. He came into the tournament with much to prove, on the outside looking in to Gregg Berhalter’s circle of trust and hoping to use the tournament to earn more call-ups from the once-and-future USMNT manager.

Sands seemed to do his part to impress the higher-ups of the US Soccer Federation. He was a written-in-ink starter throughout the tournament for Callaghan and played an error-free 476 minutes across his five starts. He earned a spot in Concacaf’s Best XI of the group stage. His average match rating for those five performances, via FotMob, was 7.6, and he ended the tournament leading the USMNT in a number of statistical categories, like minutes played (a tie with Jesús Ferreira), passes completed, tackles won, and fouls drawn.

Neymar to NYCFC?

The Gold Cup roster he was a part of was not one that anyone would consider the strongest possible version of the USMNT, with many referring to it as a “B” or even “C” team. If the intention of this USMNT Gold Cup roster was to evaluate players below the top spots on the Berhalter depth charts, Sands raised his hand as someone who warrants further looks.

While ultimately a disappointing Gold Cup for the USMNT, who have won the trophy seven times, it’s likely to go down as yet another positive step for Sands since ending his loan move to Rangers FC early to return to NYCFC.

Returning to NYCFC has gotten Sands back to playing match after match, which in turn has gotten him back on the USMNT radar. While it was a setback for Sands and the USMNT in the semi against Panama, it’s still an overall Mission Accomplished for the Guy from Rye as he returns to now try to help NYCFC turn its season around.

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