James Sands (center) with sporting director Claudio Reyna (left) and head coach Patrick Vieira (right). (Photo courtesy of NYCFC)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

James Sands has turned pro.

The 16-year-old defender Wednesday became New York City FC’s first Homegrown Player in the club’s three-year history.

The Rye, N.Y. resident’s deal with the Major League Soccer club starts July 1.

“I’m really excited – this is a big dream come true for me from ever since I was little kid playing in my back yard to now,” Sands told NYCFC.com. “Especially when you look at how in just a few short years NYCFC has grown – to be the first Homegrown Player is really special for me.

“It’s a huge accomplishment but I think it’s also a credit to the players and coaches I’ve worked with, from NYCFC’s Academy to the youth national team. Without them pushing me every day, I wouldn’t be in this position.”

Sands, who will wear No. 16 with the club, played for the New York Soccer Club, which was founded years ago by NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna, from the age of 10 until he was selected by the MLS club when it created its Under-16 Academy side in 2015.

“I really thought about how much I would learn every day working with the players and the coaches at the club and that’s how I know this is the right thing to do for me at this time,” Sands said.

“Now I need to be like a sponge, to learn good habits from the people around me and to be confident – I’m really looking forward to coming in, to contributing and I really can’t wait to be out there playing in front of our fans.”

James Sands Signs | Interview

James Sands' first interview as #NYCFC's first ever homegrown player #NYCFCHomegrown

Posted by New York City FC on Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Video courtesy of NYCFC Facebook page

Sands became the first Academy player to join the MLS side for preseason training in Jacksonville, Fla. this winter. He impressed the staff, including head coach Patrick Vieira.

“I’m really glad for James because he came with us on preseason and he did really well, showing us how good he is,” Vieira said. “He fully deserves this contract, he’s a young talent and now we have to help him to develop that talent.

“It’s really good for us as a football club because it shows how hard and how well the coaches in the Academy have been working for the past few years. They deserve a lot of credit because when you look at the talent we have, especially in such a short time period, it tells us a lot about how the system is working.”

Sands stood out in a 2-2 draw with Emelec in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He played alongside Italian World Cup champion Andrea Pirlo and checked all of the boxes with his veteran-like performance. He turned heads with his skill, passing ability and vision of the game.

“It’s an exciting day for James, for the football club and for the Academy to have our first Homegrown Player sign – it’s a special moment and we couldn’t have asked for a better person to be the first,” Reyna said.

“James has worked so hard for this and he’s an inspiration for all of our Academy players to realize that with the right habits and dedication they can follow James in signing a professional contract.

“I think the next thing that we’re all really looking forward to is when he steps onto the field for the first time and we have our first Homegrown Player making his debut.

“We’re confident, if James continues in the same way, that day will come soon.”

James’ twin brother Will has played for the New York Soccer Club and is a member of the NYCFC Academy.