U.S. defender James Sands isn't one to seek out big events off the field. It's ironic that over the next three months he will see himself thrust onto one, and possibly two, of the biggest stages in world sport.
At age 22, Sands will be showcasing his talents in the most prestigious club tournament in the world when he takes the field in the long-awaited return of Scottish giants Rangers to the UEFA Champions League in Europe. Depending on how things go there, the World Cup in Qatar could be next in November.
"Off the field I'm quite a quiet person," Sands described himself in an interview with The Sporting News from Glasgow, Scotland. "I like to do a lot of stuff on my own or with a small group of people, I don't really like big events."
Given how quickly he's risen to prominence on the global stage, he might have to start getting used to them.
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Hailing from the quiet, upper-class New York City suburb of Rye, Sands has gone from local academy product to World Cup roster contender in the span of a few years. He won a Major League Soccer championship with NYCFC in December 2021, and less than one month later he was off to one of Scotland's biggest clubs on an 18-month loan. It was an overseas move that could prove the difference in helping Sands seal a spot on the U.S. men's national team for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
With the Qatar event slated for November, it's been a well-timed rise to prominence for Sands. The USMNT could make use of a versatile defender with his profile: a young, ball-playing center-back with keen positional awareness who reads the game well and still has room for improvement.
The question is whether Sands has enough time to unseat the other contenders for a ticket on the plane to Qatar. That decision rests with USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter.
Walker Zimmer messi psg jersey large man (Nashville SC) is entrenched as one of the USA's starting center-backs, but the other spots are still up for grabs. Tim Ream (Fulham) and Cameron Carter-Vi psg childrens football kit ckers (Celtic) are showing strong form, with the latter coming away victorious in the Old Firm derby against Sands and Rangers on Sept. 3. Chris Richards (Crystal Palace) and Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls) have not impressed of late, and see themselves fall out of the running.
"One of the first things that people notice about me as a player is my versatility," Sands said about what makes him unique as a player. "Throughout my whole professional career so far, I've switched back and forth between center-back and defensive midfield. So that's a big part of what makes me unique."
That positional flexibility could be valuable as Berhalter builds a World Cup roster that can weather any bouts of adversity throughout the tournament. But that's not all that Sands possesses as he hopes to convince the U.S. coaches.
"Being able to be calm and composed under pressure" is another aspect of his game he's proud of. "I think I've been fortunate to experience a lot of big atmospheres, not just at Rangers but even with NYCFC and my time with the youth national teams," Sands says. "I think I've shown that I can handle those big moments."
While with NYCFC, Sands played 120 minutes in the 2021 MLS Cup final, helping to limit Portland to a late equalizer and eventual penalty-kick shootout victory for NYCFC. His performance in that game stands out to Sands as one of his best-ever performances.
"I've probably played better games based on purely skill or technical ability," Sands said about his performance in the MLS Cup final, "but in terms of significance and showing up in the big moment, I think that's what I would consider one of my best games."
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His assessment is on the mark. Through those 120 minutes of regulation and extra-time, Sands, as a defensive midfielder, won an astonishing nine of his 10 ground duels, wi psg kit url 2021 nning six tackles, and completing his only dribble attempt. Of his 116 touches in the match, he only lost possession 19 times, wasn't beaten on the dribble messi holding shirt once, and also contributed a key pass.
He's also producing at Rangers, where he's been inserted into the starting lineup and utilized primarily at center-back, working his way into a regular starting role this year alongside five-year club veteran Connor Goldson. He recently played 90 minutes in one of the world's most historic rivalries and is eyeing a psg shirt replica key role in the Champ psg shirt orange ions League group stage.
"I think I realize that it's something in five or 10 years I'll be very proud to say I did it," Sands says of his experiences in Europe, "but when I'm in the moment I just have to think about it as any other game and not try and focus too much on the atmosphere or the significance of the game."
Sands was immense in a big spot in the Champions League playoff round second leg at Dutch side PSV — a triumphant 1-0 result which earned Rangers a spot in the prestigious group stage. Playing in his first Old Firm derby did present a few jitters for the American international, but they psg jersey polos men didn't last long.
"Any time you're playing a big game like that you always feel a bit nervous," Sands admitted, "but you know what, one of the big reasons I came to Rangers is to play in big games like this. I really think the more you experience that sort of atmosphere and are involved in games like that, and get used to it, you can start to feel a little less pressure and start playing your game like normal."
That match, ultimately, will be one for Sands — and the entire Rangers side — to forget. They were battered to the tune of a humbling 4-0 scoreline, including the third Celtic goal which saw the American lose track of his man at the far post.
Despite the scoreline, there wer psg x jordan shirts e positives. Sands collected a whopping 110 touches, and he was heavily involved in Rangers' possessional approach, losing the ball just 13 times and completing 81 of 91 passes. He was on target with eight of his 13 long balls, and won six of his eight ground duels, including four tackles.
The rest of the Rangers side struggled.
Goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin had a nightmare performance, while fellow American Malik Tillman failed to make an impact in the attack. It was a collective failure, but one that Sands and the rest of the club can quickly put behind them with their six upcoming Champions League group stage fixtures.
"Everyone just sees what the media covers, or that we're always out doing things having fun all the time," Sands said about what misconceptions people have about pro athletes. "I think people don't understand how much down time is involved with being an athlete. A lot of that is dealing with the messi youth jersey psg thoughts in your head and being able to sit with yourself after a good game, but also a bad game.
"If you play a bad game, there's really no way to get away from it, you'll be thinking about it for the next couple of days. So it's a battle between trying not to think about what happened and also moving on."
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Moving on will be critical during World Cup roster crunch time. Sands, who debuted for the senior side in July 2021, is competing with the likes of Long, Ream, Richards, Mark McKenzie (Genk) and Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes) for what are likely two roster spots alongside Zimmerman, who is the only real lock.
There could potentially be an additional spot reserved for a center-back since Berhalter will have 26 names to fill in. That total includes the extra three roster spots granted by FIFA due to the unique timing of the event in the middle of the club season. The 2014 World Cup only allowed for 23-man rosters and U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann opted for three center-backs in that tournament: Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks, and Matt Besler.
The 22-year-old defender is very much on the radar. He was seen having dinner with USMNT coach Berhalter and fellow American teammate Tillman after the loss to Celtic. Berhalter was at the match to watch Sands, Tillman, and Celtic's Carter-Vickers, all of whom logged significant minutes in the Glasgow derby match.
Sands believes he's ready for the challenge, but knows he has to keep up his level to earn a World Cup roster spot. "First and foremost, it's staying in the starting XI here [at Rangers]. I'm not going to get there [at the World Cup] if I'm not playing, so playing every game and being a part of the big games coming up will be really important.
"Continuing to give it my best is all I can do."
He'll get his share of big games coming up. Rangers were drawn into a Champions League group with Ajax, Napoli, and Liverpool, with a visit to Anfield booked for October 4.
"We obviously have some very big teams in our group, but I think the biggest thing is not playing with any fear," Sands said of the Champions League draw. "In our Europa League run to the final last year, we showed we can compete with those big teams. Especially our home games at Ibrox, we know with our fanbase and our support we can beat everyone. So in short, it's winning the home games and trying to take points in the away games."
Sands has at his disposal the biggest stage in the club game to make an impression back home.
"I don't really feel so much pressure because the national team is something that would be very nice to be a pa youth messi psg jersey rt of, and going to the World Cup is the dream, but it's also out of my control," Sands said.
"He's the coach, he's going to make his decisions. I'll do my best to play my way into those decisions, but it's not my choice at the end of the day."