Over the last few years, increasing numbers of promising young players have come through Major League Soccer. The soccer scene in the United States of America is arguably better than it ever has been, and New York City FC may have stumbled across the next breakthrough star. In 2010, James Sands joined the club’s affiliate team, New York Soccer Club, before being promoted to the Boys in Blue five years later.

It took a further two years before the Rye-born player made his debut for New York City FC. Since then, he hasn’t looked back, and Sands’ manager believes that he can reach the very top. So, what makes the 20-year-old such a special talent? Well, let’s look at his career thus far and consider why he’s rated so highly.

Ronny Deila Thinks A Move Could be on the Cards

Ronny Deila, the Pigeons’ manager, could follow in Joe Scally’s footsteps and move back to a European club in the coming years. According to MLS Multiplex, the club’s manager describes the 20-year-old as a “big talent” and a player that NYCFC will struggle to keep if big-money offers are on the table. As touched on above, the New York-based team aren’t opposed to selling their young players if the money is right. In November 2019, the club sold a former homegrown full-back, Scally, to Borussia Monchengladbach. Should he perform, the fee could rise to one of the league’s highest ever received transfers packages.

The official MLS website reports that teams from Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands are monitoring the United States U17 international. If Sands moves to the Bundesliga, he’d mirror Giovanni Reyna and Scally in swapping the New York-based team for the German top-flight. Away from the Boys in Blue, Alphonso Davies and Tyler Adams both recently left the league for Bayern Munich and RasenBallsport Leipzig, respectively.

There’s a perception that losing such promising talent is adversely impacting the MLS’ playing standard. While teams would rather keep their homegrown talents, some clubs require the money to continue operating. Furthermore, from a playing standpoint, Inter Miami’s emergence has brought well-known stars to the league, including Blaise Matuidi and Gonzalo Higuain. Such transfers have generated new-found interest in the division among global soccer fans.

The Club’s First Homegrown Player has Sought-After Versatility

One reason why Sands is piquing the interests of European clubs is because of his adaptability. At the time of writing, Transfermarkt states that the 20-year-old has played 48 games for New York City FC in all competitions. In that time, the Rye-born player has played as a defensive midfielder on 27 occasions. In this more-advanced role, he’s got two assists to his name. However, at six-foot-one, Sands is also comfortable playing as a central defender and has played 17 matches for the Pigeons at the back.

HalfSpaces’ scouting report on Sands details that his strengths cover game understanding and tactical flexibility. However, to succeed in a major European league over the coming years, the 20-year-old will need to work on his distribution and ball progression. While that is likely to come as he continues to improve, modern-day managers now seek players capable of building the play from deeper areas.

If Sands can improve these facets of his game, he may find himself selected for the 2022 World Cup, which the USA are currently +10,000 with Betway to win in Qatar. On paper, Gregg Berhalter's team could be the competition’s surprise package. In addition to Reyna, the national team also features Brenden Aaronson, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and several other stars who play in top-flight European leagues.

Sands is a By-Product of the Pigeons’ Development

New York City FC have come a long way since they recruited David Villa, their first foreign acquisition, in June 2014, and their growth has enabled them to bring through promising young players. Over the coming years, Sands’ career will likely follow a similar path to Scally’s, with NYCFC unlikely to stand in his way if a potential transfer was on the table. Although the 20-year-old isn’t yet the complete player, he has the raw attributes to reach the very top, and there’s nothing to suggest that he can’t enjoy a trophy-winning career.