TRANSFER TRACKER STATUS: Loan return, contract extension
The homegrown standout was originally set to stay with the Scottish Premiership side through June after initially joining in January 2022, but fell out of favor under manager Mick Beale. Rangers held a purchase option.
However, the 22-year-old US international midfielder/defender has signed a new contract with NYCFC through the 2027 MLS season. And he will be available for NYCFC’s Matchday 2 game, a Saturday visit to Chicago Fire FC (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass), pending receipt of his International Transfer Certificate.
“It was a priority for us to try and ensure James returned to New York this season,” NYCFC sporting director David Lee said in a release. “Despite opportunities to continue his career in Europe, we are pleased that we’ve been able to reach an agreement on a new contract and convince James that this is the right place for his continued career progression.
“We know James’ ambition remains to play at the highest levels in Europe and we will continue to support him with his career aspirations.”
Sands, a starter on NYCFC’s MLS Cup 2021-winning team, scored one goal in 41 games (2,495 minutes) across all competitions while at Rangers. He also won the 2022 Scottish Cup and featured in the 2021 Europa League final, as well as UEFA Champions League group play.
Sands, who signed as NYCFC’s first-ever homegrown player in 2017, played in 76 matches (6,730 minutes) across all competitions and provided one assist before heading to Europe. He’s shown incredible versatility by playing as a defensive midfielder, center back in a back-three, and even at outside back.
Sands has played seven times for the USMNT, memorably helping them win the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup over Mexico. He appeared in one World Cup qualifier during the 2022 cycle, though wasn’t on the final 26-man roster for Qatar.
“As I return to New York, I am looking forward to playing with some of my former teammates as well as many new ones,” Sands said. “I’m excited about the club's vision for the future and hope I can use my experience abroad to help the club achieve its goals and bring home some more silverware for our incredible fans.”
How Sands fits
With Sands' return, NYCFC have potentially solved several holes amid their offseason roster turnover. He projects to start in midfield alongside Keaton Parks, plus gives options at center back alongside Maxime Chanot and Thiago Martins.
NYCFC are reportedly set to bring back midfielder Santiago Rodriguez as well, another part of their MLS Cup-winning side from two seasons ago. The club has Designated Player flexibility, too, amid losing longtime staples Sean Johnson, Alex Callens, Maxi Moralez and more this offseason.
The league's Primary Transfer Window remains open through April 24, then the Secondary Transfer Window runs from July 5 to Aug. 2.
NYCFC suffered a 2-0 setback at Nashville SC on Matchday 1. An Eastern Conference finalist last fall, they’ve made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs all but one year since joining the league as an expansion club in 2015.
READ MORE: MLS Transfer Tracker presented by Avant