The club made the much-speculated-about move official with a video reveal that doubled as a helpful confirmation of Sands’s new kit number for the 2023 season.
Talk of a Sands-NYCFC reunion really intensified right before the European transfer window closed on January 31. In his January 30th press conference, Rangers FC manager Michael Beale hinted that his club faced decisions on the futures of the players they had in on loan, saying “We’ve got a couple of loan players in and we’ve got to make a decision on whether we want to retain them long term, and if we didn’t, maybe there’s an opportunity for them to go back as well.”
Sands didn’t move before that European window shut, but his status as a loan player from MLS meant it didn’t matter. He made a few brief cameos for Rangers in the time since, but was clearly not in the new manager’s plans.
That was not and will not be be the case with NYCFC, who are extremely thin in midfield and central defense. Sands should have no trouble finding minutes over the course of this season, particularly since he is already expected to be available for the club’s very next match, Saturday night at the Chicago Fire.
Coming back to MLS will be viewed as a setback for Sands, but Europe doesn’t seem permanently out of the question for him despite his up-and-down spell in Glasgow. In the official release announcing Sands’ return and contract extension, NYCFC sporting director David Lee said Sands had “opportunities to continue his career in Europe,” but for NYCFC it was “a priority for us to try and ensure James returned to New York this season.”
Even with a new long-term contract that runs through the 2027 season, don’t assume it’s a certainty Sands will still be around to help break in the shiny new Willets Point stadium. David Lee was also clear in saying Sands and the team are open to the player again attempting a move to a European club, saying “We know James’ ambition remains to play at the highest levels in Europe and we will continue to support him with his career aspirations.”
Not a like-for-like situation, but Taty Castellanos signed a lengthy five-year contract with NYCFC in May 2021, when he was the subject of much rumored transfer interest, and was then on his way to Europe around 14 months later. Sands might be hoping for a similar trajectory: put together a strong 2023 season and help NYCFC’s remodeled squad exceed expectations, then drum up some new interest abroad and try again.
Regardless of the thinking on the player’s part, this is a big signing for NYCFC and its midfield. In Nashville, Justin Haak stepped in for the injured Alfredo Morales, who has been frequently out of action through injury since the later stages of the 2022 season. Adding Sands to the picture solidifies the depth chart and gives coach Nick Cushing another experienced, high-level, MLS-tested option.