It’s been a whirlwind year in the life of James Sands.
From being called up to the first-team for preseason, to playing in front of 40,000 fans in Ecuador, before signing his professional deal, NYCFC’s first-ever Homegrown Player is ticking off milestones in his young career at a startling rate.
The New York Soccer Club alum chalked up yet another historic moment last weekend when he took to the field as a 65th minute substitute in NYCFC’s 1-1 draw with Colorado Rapids.
Replacing Andrea Pirlo, who had just won the U21 European Championships with Italy when Sands was born in Rye, NY, James became NYCFC’s youngest-ever player at 17 years and 72 days.
It was a landmark moment, both for Sands and for the Academy, as the pathway from the youth ranks to the first-team was demonstrated clearly for all to see.
Although NYCFC went on to concede an equalizing goal late in the game, Sands could hold his head up high following an impressively composed first outing in blue.
Facing off against players vastly more experienced, James played his normal game, moving the ball intelligently and exchanging passes in a neat and tidy fashion with his teammates.
Typical of James, an articulate, intelligent player, he was less interested in discussing the significance of his landmark appearance than he was in sharing his disappointment that the team failed to leave the Mile High City with all three points in the interview following his debut.
Sands told NYCFC.com: “It was an amazing experience for me, being my debut and all, but obviously a little disappointed with the way the game ended, but it happens and we just have to move on.
“Obviously I was a little bit nervous going on for my first game but as I started playing and started connecting passes, it felt good and I felt like I was used to it.
“Andrea is one of the legends of the game so to come on for him was special for me too. This was a good start but I’m looking forward to getting on the field more, getting more minutes and hopefully contributing a little more.”
There are many people in the game who James is grateful to for giving him his start but Head Coach Patrick Vieira will forever be the figure who gave Sands his professional debut.
It was no act of charity or a token gesture, however, Vieira has been a proponent of James’s abilities ever since first working with him in Jacksonville on preseason and he was pleased with what he saw on Saturday.
“I think he's just learning," said Vieira, "He's really young, and he came into a game where we were under pressure, where he needed to be really smart.
"I think it was a good first game for him to get involved. It will make him better, and I think it was a good experience for him. He's an important player for our football club and we want to develop him in the right way."
With the albatross of that first appearance thrown off, now James will work hard for more opportunities to show what he can do in the coming weeks before he’s likely to join up with U.S U-17 National Team for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.
A whirlwind year, certainly, but James seems to have the mentality to rise to the new challenges in his career as he lights the way for others to follow...