ORANGEBURG, N.Y. — After signing the club’s first Homegrown contract in 2017, James Sands waited nearly 21 months to become a regular in the lineup for New York City FC.
Sands earned a starting role in the midfield to begin the 2019 season and then moved to central defense in a three-back system that helped change the course of the season for the Eastern Conference’s top seed in the upcoming MLS Cup playoffs.
However, the Rye, NY native was felled by a pair of different, yet related upper body injuries and has been held out of 13 matches.
He is set to resurface Sunday when NYCFC meets the Philadelphia Union on Decision Day at Talen Energy Stadium.
“It’s been kind of rough second half of the season for me,” Sands said after training on Thursday, just his second full session with the first team after a nine-game absence.
Four minutes into the August 17 match at FC Cincinnati, Mathieu DePlagne inadvertently fell on top of Sands, driving the defender’s right shoulder into the artificial surface at Nippert Stadium.
Sands admitted that the damage could have been prevented with a more cautious approach after his first setback of the year – a broken right arm sustained against FC Cincinnati in their first match at Yankee Stadium on June 6 after a collision with goalkeeper Brad Stuver.
“It (broken clavicle) was definitely related to my arm,” Sands said.
He had missed four matches before attempting a return against the expansion side.
“I still wasn’t feeling 100 percent. It felt kind of funny,” he said. “Maybe if it was 100 percent I would have put my arm out to break the fall. You can always say, ‘what if’ but maybe it played a part.”
The 19-year old said he is completely healed and anticipating a return to competition Sunday.
“I certainly hope so,” Sands said. “That would be a good place for me to get some minutes against a top team. Even a few minutes off the bench would be helpful going into the playoffs.”
If he gets a shift against the Union, Sands said he will not be deterred by his previous ailments.
“I can’t think about it because I think that’s why I got hurt the second time,” Sands said. “I’m just going to play my game, which is physical and deal with it.”