Nick Cushing on James Sands (left): “One thing I can say is: he’s really, really hungry to continue to be successful with New York City.” (USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis Editor

After New York City FC’s disastrous season debut at Nashville SC on Saturday, it appears the team would need help in several areas.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that head coach Nick Cushing welcomed the news that defensive midfielder James Sands will return to the MLS club after his loan to Rangers in Scotland.

Cushing felt that the experience the Rye, N.Y. gained playing in the Scottish Premiership and in European competitions helped make him a better player.

“Everybody is really, really pleased to have James back,” he said during a Zoom press conference on Thursday afternoon. “Me personally, I’m incredibly happy and excited to have James.”

Sands, 22, helped NYCFC reach the 2021 MLS Cup, which the team won. City hardly looked like a playoff team on Saturday, dropping a 2-0 decision that could have been greater.

“We’re trying to embed an identity, and to have a guy that has been developed within our system – that is homegrown, that has been part of the successful years previously – that has also gone away, and been in an environment where it’s only going to benefit him, playing in Europa League finals, playing in Champions League games: Ajax, Liverpool,” Cushing said. “We’ve got a guy, who not only is a really, really good football player, but now has a new and incredibly improved mentality through being in that environment.

“So, everyone’s really happy. He’s trained really well today, and one thing I can say is: he’s really, really hungry to continue to be successful with New York City.”

Sands could be in uniform for Saturday’s game at the Chicago Fire. It depends on if his International Transfer Certificate goes through in time.

The availability of outside back Tayvon Gray was still up in the air on Thursday afternoon. He suffered abdominal injury against Nashville.

“Tayvon is still working,” Cushing said. “We’re not ruling him out 100 percent.”

But …

“It’s going to be hard for him,” Cushing added. “It’s going to be difficult for him. He obviously pulled up in the game, and he’s had this abdominal complaint. It’s nothing that we’re incredibly worried about. We know that our medical team will work with him.

“He’s aware of picking up these small things. One thing I can say about Tayvon is [that] he’s incredibly determined and focused to make sure that he doesn’t miss [matches].”

Cushing noted that Gray missed a game against the Philadelphia Union last season due to an injury.

“He’s incredibly focused and he’s working really hard in making sure that this doesn’t become a regular occurrence,” he said.  “We as a medical team, as a performance team, have to make sure that we do our part, and we make sure that we give him every chance of being available for as many training sessions, and as many games as possible. He’s a young player, so he needs to play.”

He also needs to be healthy.