New York City FC will once again be represented on the United States men’s national team. James Sands has been called up to the USMNT’s April 19th “Continental Clásico” friendly against regional rivals Mexico in Glendale, Arizona. It’s a long-awaited return to the national team for the NYCFC Homegrown player, as Sands now gets a chance to earn an eighth cap for the US, and a first since September 2021.
This invite to join interim manager Anthony Hudson’s USMNT squad represents Sands’s first national team call-up since he was included in Gregg Berhalter’s squad ahead of their final three World Cup qualifiers. Sands didn’t play in any of those final pre-Qatar qualifiers, and made his last appearance for his country on September 8, 2021, when he helped the USMNT beat Honduras 4-1. The States qualified for the big tournament in Qatar, but Sands’s struggles while on loan to Rangers FC in Scotland saw him fall out of favor with Berhalter and ultimately miss making the USMNT World Cup squad.
But 2021 remains the best year of Sands’s international career. He enjoyed something of a national team breakout during that summer’s Gold Cup, first making his senior US debut in a group-stage victory against Haiti. Sands then went on to become a consistent starter in central defense while the USMNT reeled off five straight victories on their way to hoisting the Copa Oro for a seventh time. That included a 1-0 extra-time victory over Mexico in the final in which Sands played all 120 minutes, so it’s familiar opposition he might face next week in Glendale. Sands looked like a player on the cusp of a full-blown USMNT breakthrough, and seemed to have a shot at making that World Cup roster, though a dip in form while in Europe meant that spot failed to materialize.
The timing of this call-up is less than ideal from NYCFC’s perspective. The USMNT-Mexico friendly falls outside of any international windows, and will mean that Sands is away from his club right between a pair of home MLS matches with Nashville SC and FC Dallas, respectively. Sands’s health also remains something of a question mark, as he was subbed out of NYCFC’s 1-1 draw with Atlanta United after being on the receiving end of a nasty red card challenge from Atlanta’s Franco Ibarra. Worst fears over an injury seemed to be alleviated post-match, but the status of Sands’s health and short-term availability remains unclear.
Sands is notably included on this USMNT roster as a midfielder, which mirrors NYCFC’s insistence on largely playing him at defensive midfielder rather than in central defense. The call-up has to mark a high point for Sands as he works to re-establish himself back in MLS with NYCFC. Starting regularly and at his seemingly “preferred” position, Sands has once again caught the eye of his national team. Now he, NYCFC, and the USMNT will be hoping his health will cooperate ahead of a busy week of games.