James Sands with NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna and head coach Patrick Vieira. (Photo courtesy of NYCFC)
By Michael Lewis
NEW YORK — It’s pretty rare for a player to get cheered by his teammates for doing an interview, but James Sands’ New York City FC teammates made an exception last week.
Sands was made available after City’s 3-1 victory over Minnesota United last week and he didn’t even play in the game at Yankee Stadium.
It was the 16-year-old’s phenom first interview with the media.
So, when a reporter asked rookie James Sands: “Obvious question now. What does he feel to call yourself a professional soccer players?” his teammates caused a ruckus in the background.
After the noise subsided, Sands answered the question.
“It’s definitely a special feeling for me, a dream come true,” he said. “For it to happen at a club like this, a local club, it’s a true honor.”
Sands, who calls Rye, N.Y. home, signed with the Major League Soccer club, becoming the team’s first Homegrown Player June 21. That was after a successful trial with the team during the preseason. He was a member of the NYCFC Academy after stints with the New York Soccer Club, of which City sporting director Claudio Reyna is a founder, before joining U.S. Under-17 residency camp in Bradenton, Fla.
He might have been a bit nervous at first but displayed his poise and composure when he met the press.
“Just taking learning experiences from all those, it helped me along the way,” Sands said. “I got to the point where I am how, training with good coaches.”
And playing with some pretty good teammates as well.
During preseason, Sands roomed with forward Jack Harrison, who, at 20, isn’t that much older than his newest teammate.
“I got know him a little bit,” Harrison said “I tried to help with his homework. “He’s a great kid, a fantastic addition to the team. It’s not only good for the team it’s great for him as well. I’m excited to play with him.”
Not surprisingly, Sands returned the compliment.
When asked what was his biggest surprise since joining the team, Sands replied, “Just meeting them in person, seeing how they’re just normal people like everyone else. There are superstars on this team. Just getting to know them, it’s special.”
Sands made his mark during NYCFC’s preseason match against Emelec in Ecuador. It was about that time there was a possibility that he would sign with the three-year-old club.
“With the U-17s and qualifying, my main focus was on that, but I think it would come eventually,” he said. “I would do qualifying first and then I would sign later.”
Which he did. The U.S qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India Oct. 6-28 (the draw is set for Friday). There will be training camps and warm-up matches between now and then.
“I’m going to be back and forth, based on how much the 17’s need me and what’s more important,” he said.
As for signing, it was inevitable.
“It was a simple decision for me,” Sands said. “Just look at the club, the players, the coaches, it’s a no-brainer.
“I think based on preseason, I knew it was coming.”
Still, Sands spoke with his parents, former coaches and outside advisors.
“My parents were a big influence,” he said. “I talked with them a lot. But they were ok about whatever I decided to do. And then some of my close coaches, but everyone was open to a higher option.
“The pro for me what I decided on was the best for my development would be to sign now, to be training every day.”
And who knows? There might be another Sands in NYCFC”s future if he impresses like his brother. That would be Will Sands, who is a midfielder with the U.S. U-17 residency program.
James Sands there was no jealousy that he already was a professional player.
“He’s definitely been supportive,” he said. “We’re naturally competitive being twins, but I think he’s still there pushing me. I think it benefits both of us.”