Rangers have moved quickly to land their first signing of the January transfer window – and the first of Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s reign as manager at Ibrox – with the capture of James Sands from New York City FC on an initial 18-month loan from the MLS side.
The American international heads to Glasgow fresh from helping NYCFC win their maiden MLS Cup under the guidance of former Celtic boss Ronny Deila as he looks to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Maurice Edu, Alejandro Bedoya, Carlos Bocanegra and Claudio Reyna in starring for the Light Blues.
While Sands might not be a familiar name to most Rangers fans, we caught up with Oliver Strand, managing editor of SB Nation’s NYCFC blog Hudson River Blue, to find out more about just what we can expect to see as the latest addition to the Rangers squad settles in Scotland.
In the first of our two-part interview with Oliver, we look at how the NYCFC fans have responded to losing the club’s first-ever Homegrown player, potentially facing Gio Reyna in the Europa League and his importance for NYCFC as they lifted the MLS Cup for the first time in their history this year.
How have the NYCFC fans reacted to Sands’ move:
“I think there’s been a lot of support for the move. There’s a certain amount of disappointment because he’s a very good player and he’s a starter and he was extraordinary in the Playoffs.
“He started in all of the Playoff games and he was a monster in them so there’s some disappointment but also appreciation and support because MLS has gone from being a retirement league to basically being a development league. We take young talent from Latin and North America, develop them and then move them on and that’s where we are just now. He fits what the new MLS is.
“He’s a local boy; he’s played in the New York region for his entire life; he was the first Homegrown player for NYCFC and he’s at the age where he should go and step up into a tougher league. I think everyone expected him to move on to a really good team and a bigger platform and this is the time for him.”
What type of player are Rangers getting in James Sands?
“He is a natural centre-back and NYCFC is very strong in that spot. I think that’s part of the reason we let him go. We have a pair of CBs who pay for their national teams and it’s hard for him to knock them out the team.
“He’s been moved up into a holding midfielder and done really well there and he can also play right-back. Basically, he’s been played out of his natural position for the whole season and done extraordinarily well in front of the two centre-backs.”
Just how important was he to NYCFC’s success in the MLS Cup Playoffs?
“Incredibly important (in the Playoffs). He normally plays alongside Keaton Park, Parks had a blood clot removed the last day of the regular season so Sands had to really step up in there. The first two games of the Playoffs, in particular, he was just extraordinary. He’s always good; he’s a very intelligent player; a very smart player; gets into the right spots; reads the ball well; he positions himself well; he intercepts a lot of balls; his passing is also extremely intelligent. Even by his high standards, over the course of the season, his pass accuracy was 88.8% and in the first Playoff game, it was 94%+. NYCFC have made the Playoffs for six years and always loses our head and get knocked out so the fact he played that well in a game we normally don’t, he set us up fo the Playoff run that brought us the title.
“In the second Playoff game we played the best team from the regular season (Matt Polster’s New England Revolution) in MLS and MLS teams are really imbalanced. You have a few stars, you have a few young talents who are developing and then you have a mushy middle and the Revolution are probably the most balanced team out there. He went up against former Aston Villa playmaker Carles Gil and that’s who he’s taking out of the game. He’s up against a seasoned pro who is an exceptional player and could still play in Europe and he’s going up against Poland international Adam Buksa who scored five goals in five games and is the strike partner of Robert Lewandowski for the Polish national team. This is who Sands was going up against and completely out-playing them
“As a kid, as an American, as a kid from NY to go up against this sort of international talent; totally composed, totally calm, totally unafraid. It was exciting to see.”
At only 21, there’s still plenty of room for improvement?
“He’s getting more intelligent and he’s getting stronger. He comes across as being more slight than he really is and is one of these wiry players who will just go and step in front of an attacker. He’s a smart player who is getting smarter and smarter and smarter.
Potentially facing former NYCFC pal Gio Reyna when Rangers take on Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League:
“It’s interesting, they both came through NYCFC but Sands is more of a product of NYCFC while Reyna was more placed there because of his dad (former Rangers midfielder and ex-NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna) so they do have a lot in common but Sands was a product of the club.
“It’s interesting how the City group have grown the clubs that they own. It’s almost a really nice hotel group…it’s not just going and mimicking it over and over again but when there are ideas that work then it goes to these other places. From what I understand the academy (at NYCFC) is very similar to the one in Uruguay and the one in Australia as well so Sands is very much a product of the City Academy while Gio was not.”
Check back tomorrow as we discuss James Sands’ USMNT prospects, working with Patrick Viera & Andrea Pirlo, his off-field personality and the origins of his ‘Bing-Bong’ catchprase.
You can find more from Oliver Strand and Hudson River Blue HERE.
The arrival of Sands could be the catalyst for more players to join the club, as interest heats up in a defender plying his trade in the Eredivisie.