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NYCFC holds on to James Sands with 5-year contract extension

NYCFC midfielder James Sands passes the ball past

NYCFC midfielder James Sands passes the ball past Tigres forward Eduardo Vargas during the first half in the first leg of the CONCACAF quarterfinal on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Harrison, N.J.  Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

New York City FC is doing what it can to keep its first homegrown player with the club for the long haul.

The club signed 20-year-old James Sands to a five-year contract extension on Thursday, locking up the defensively minded Rye native amid reported interest from clubs overseas.

"Signing a contract extension with NYCFC is a moment to celebrate and a reward for all the hard work I’ve put in throughout the last few years," Sands said in a news release. "It means a lot to me to help create that pathway for young players to really make an impact and push past the first contract."

Other terms of the contract were not available, and it’s unclear where Sands’ new deal fits under MLS roster rules regarding homegrown players.

After becoming NYCFC’s first homegrown player in 2017, Sands has played his way into the starting 11 over the last two seasons, showing versatility as a defensive midfielder and centerback. After just four appearances through 2018, Sands broke through under coach Domènec Torrent in 2019 to make 17 starts, mostly at centerback, missing some time near the end of the year with a broken collarbone. In a fragmented 2020 season under first-year coach Ronny Deila, Sands emerged as the team’s top defensive midfielder, making 16 starts before a foot fracture ended his season.

"He has become an integral part of our team and consistently plays at a very high level," NYCFC sporting director David Lee said. "His work ethic and professionalism both on and off the pitch sets a wonderful example for all our academy players who are looking to follow in his footsteps. James has such a bright future and we’re looking forward to helping him continue to maximize his potential as a player to help him play at the highest level possible."

While Sands now is under contract with his hometown team for the long-term, there’s a decent chance he won’t see the end of the deal. Playing in higher-profile European leagues remains a target for Sands, and a report by MLSSoccer.com last November stated there was interest from teams in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

"Long-term, playing at a top level in Europe has always been my dream and still is," Sands said in the release. "The club is in a good position to help me achieve my goals. I’m thankful they understand my ambitions and it’s why I’m so comfortable signing an extension here."

Sands is the first NYCFC homegrown to re-sign with the club, but he wouldn’t be the first to move to Europe. Lake Grove’s Joe Scally broke that barrier in January when he joined with Borussia Mönchengladbach of the German Bundesliga. NYCFC academy product Gio Reyna also plays in Germany with Borussia Dortmund but did not sign a pro deal with NYCFC before leaving for Europe.

A series of MLS academy products and homegrown players have made high-profile moves to Europe in recent years, including Tyler Adams (Red Bulls to RB Leipzig), Alphonso Davies (Vancouver Whitecaps to Bayern Munich) and Weston McKennie (FC Dallas to FC Shalke 04, then Juventus), among others.

For the time being, it seems Sands is content to develop here before joining that group.

New York Sports