ORANGEBBURG, N.Y. — Its easy to forget sometimes, given his maturity and acumen on the field, that James Sands just turned 19 years old earlier this month.
New York City FC’s first homegrown signing has been a defensive rock for the club in this breakout season. But after a sizzling start, when he was arguably NYCFC’s most consistent player for the first three months of the season, Sands was sidelined for six weeks after suffering a broken arm in a 5-2 win over FC Cincinnati at Yankee Stadium June 6.
He’s taken his time away from the field as a chance to recharge his battery and, as 19 year olds do in the summer, spent time with friends who are preparing to embark on college life.
“This is kind of the last summer they’re here, so I’m just hanging out with them,” Sands said.
Sands has also been studying during this midseason break. No, not philosophy or accounting, but his own teammates’ tendencies.
“I watched Maxime Chanot a lot because he was playing in the middle when I was out. So just watching how he leads and how he’s organizing everyone is helpful,” Sands said. “And then I think all the midfielders — [Alex Ring], [Ebenezer Ofori], Keaton [Parks], just how they move on the ball, how they play with each other.”
Unlike Chanot, Sands admits vocal leadership “is just not one of my strengths,” but he continues to work on that part of his game, whether he asked to do so as a center back or as a No. 6.
Getting his first game action in six weeks was difficult enough, but doing so at more than 5,000 feet altitude added to the challenge.
“It felt pretty good, to be honest,” Sands said. “The altitude is never easy. But I think because they got the red card, it kind of made it a little easier for me. And I think it was a good game to get back into it.”
Sands wore a soft cast during the game, as he’s done during training. He’ll do so again against Sporting Kansas City Friday night at Yankee Stadium, but he’s hoping to finally shed it for good following subsequent X-rays.
“It’s not fun, but at least I can play,” he said.
NYCFC coach Dome Torrent praised Sands for being a “clever player,” who can seamlessly transition from center back to a No. 6 during a match.
“Everybody knows he needs rhythm,” Torrent said. “And I’m sure the next games he will play much better.”
While Sands has shined for his club team this season, there’s been nothing but national team frustration. A snub for the US U-20 World Cup team, Sands would have been a shoe-in to be selected to a U-23 training camp in July ahead of Olympic qualifying. But his injury put an end to those hopes, though being part of that team is “definitely a goal.”
“After I wasn’t able to go to that camp, I didn’t hear from them,” Sands said. “But everything I’ve heard about Jason [Kreis], he’s a great coach. So I think if I keep doing well with New York, I’ll get another chance. So that’s what I’m just gonna keep working for.”