James Sands put in another strong performance for the United States Men’s National Team in their 1-1 draw against Jamaica in the first match of this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup.
The New York City FC midfielder successfully followed up on his Player of the Match-level performance in the USMNT’s one-off April friendly against Mexico by again being the best central midfielder on the night.
The match against Jamaica presented an extremely tough test for Sands and his USMNT teammates. Jamaica’s starting XI included five players who play for clubs in England’s Premier League, with the Jamaican attack led by the trio of Michail Antonio (West Ham United), Demarai Gray (Everton FC), and Leon Bailey (Aston Villa FC).
Conversely, the American roster for this Gold Cup represents something of a B-squad, with the top players from European clubs who just helped the USMNT win the Nations League mostly excluded.
That means many players from MLS, such as Sands, are going to feature prominently throughout the tournament for interim head coach BJ Callaghan, who found out his replacement had been hired during literally his first-ever match in charge.
Sands rose to the challenge against Jamaica’s imposing attack, providing a steadying midfield presence while doing his usual dirty work winning duels and tackles. Sands won the most 50-50 duels in the match, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise to NYCFC fans as the midfielder also led all of MLS in that category as of June 20.
The strengths in The Guy from Rye’s game were all needed against Jamaica, as Sands found himself in an all-MLS double-pivot alongside Columbus Crew midfielder Aidan Morris, who had a rough night. Morris committed the foul that led to the free kick which Jamaica converted for their goal. He also gave away a penalty that Matt Turner heroically saved.
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Sands had work to do to keep the USMNT from conceding again. He accomplished his mission, going the full 90 minutes and keeping things tight enough to give the Americans a chance to keep chasing an equalizer, which eventually arrived via FC Cincinnati’s Brandon Vazquez.
The performance of the NYCFC midfielder was universally hailed as a solid one, no matter where you turn for your player ratings or post-match analyses. Sands’s performance was rated at 7.6 by Fotmob, the highest-rated American not named Matt Turner, while he came in at 7.5 according to Sofascore. Meg Swanick of MLSSoccer.com gave him a 6.5, the second-highest rating among outfield players.
This match and the rest of the ones he plays at the Gold Cup all represent huge opportunities for Sands to solidify his future with the USMNT. Charles Boehm of MLSSoccer.com singled Sands out as a player with a lot to gain from this summer’s continental tournament, and it’s easy to see why.
Sands fell out of favor with once-and-future USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter in the lead-up to the 2022 World Cup, as the player’s unsuccessful loan spell with Rangers FC seemed to cost him national team call-ups.
Berhalter is coming back to lead the team after months of drama and speculation, so Sands now has a handful of summer CONCACAF matches to show the new-yet-old boss that he deserves a place higher up on the USMNT depth chart.
The performance against Jamaica was a good start for Sands as he again tries to string together a run of strong Gold Cup performances to improve his USMNT stock, much like he did back in 2021 when he anchored the American defense en route to an eventual trophy triumph. If history repeats itself this summer, it should make it much harder for Berhalter to claim Sands doesn’t fit his system.