Breaking through at a young, ambitious academy which has produced Borussia Dortmund's Gio Reyna and soon-to-be Borussia Mochengladbach's Joe Scally, Sands was the first through the door. And he might be the next to follow Reyna and Scally across the Atlantic.
“If he continues to progress like he’s doing now, it will be hard to keep him," head coach Ronny Deila told media on a video conference call Thursday. "Clubs in Europe are going to be there.”
The 19-year-old Sands enjoyed his breakout MLS season in 2019, with 18 starts that would have been more if not for a broken collarbone. He was developed to play defensive midfield, but in Dome Torrent's three center back formation, he flashed his versatility by spending most of his minutes on the backline, often dictating often possession from deep.
In one of the most competitive squads in the league, Sands should continue to see ample minutes under first-year boss Deila.
“James is a big prospect, I’m very impressed by him as a player and his personality," Deila said. "He has all the discipline and mental strength that you need to become a really good player. ... I think James is going to be an important player for us."
Sands will look to prove Deila right at the MLS is Back Tournament starting July 8, with NYCFC drawn into Group A alongside Inter Miami, Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union, Nashville SC and Chicago Fire FC. With up to seven games to be played in short order should City advance to the final, as well as being allowed five substitions, the club will utilize the full roster.
“I think we have good depth in our squad," Deila said. "We have very tough competition in all positions of the team, it’s something we can use to our advantage.”