(Via NYCFC) – James Sands has become the first Homegrown Player in New York City FC history. The 16-year old U.S Youth International defender has selected the No. 16 jersey and signs his first professional contract which commences on July 1.
Sands told NYCFC.com: “I’m really excited – this is a big dream come true for me from ever since I was little kid playing in my back yard to now. Especially when you look at how in just a few short years NYCFC has grown – to be the first Homegrown Player is really special for me.
“It’s a huge accomplishment but I think it’s also a credit to the players and coaches I’ve worked with, from NYCFC’s Academy to the youth national team. Without them pushing me every day, I wouldn’t be in this position.
“I really thought about how much I would learn every day working with the players and the coaches at the Club and that’s how I know this is the right thing to do for me at this time.
“Now I need to be like a sponge, to learn good habits from the people around me and to be confident – I’m really looking forward to coming in, to contributing and I really can’t wait to be out there playing in front of our fans.”
Sporting Director Claudio Reyna said: “It’s an exciting day for James, for the football club and for the Academy to have our first Homegrown Player sign – it’s a special moment and we couldn’t have asked for a better person to be the first.
“James has worked so hard for this and he’s an inspiration for all of our Academy players to realize that with the right habits and dedication they can follow James in signing a professional contract.
“I think the next thing that we’re all really looking forward to is when he steps onto the field for the first time and we have our first Homegrown Player making his debut.
“We’re confident, if James continues in the same way, that day will come soon.”
Head Coach Patrick Vieira added: “I’m really glad for James because he came with us on preseason and he did really well, showing us how good he is. He fully deserves this contract, he’s a young talent and now we have to help him to develop that talent.
“It’s really good for us as a football club because it shows how hard and how well the coaches in the Academy have been working for the past few years.
“They deserve a lot of credit because when you look at the talent we have, especially in such a short time period, it tells us a lot about how the system is working.”
James represented affiliate team New York Soccer Club from the age of 10 until he was selected by NYCFC at the inception of the U16 Academy side in 2015, along with his twin brother Will. He first came to the attention of NYCFC fans when he became the first-ever Academy product to join the first-team roster for preseason earlier this year.
Impressing the coaching staff from the first day of training in Jacksonville, Sands went on to shine in the thrilling 2-2 draw against Emelec in front of 40,000 fans in Guayaquil, Ecuador. At the age of 16, Sands lined up at the base of midfield alongside Andrea Pirlo and caught the eye with an influential, mature display, demonstrating his extensive passing range and stellar reading of the game, drawing praise from Vieira and his teammates.
James is a US-BNT regular, helping his nation to a runners-up spot in the CONCACAF U17 Championships in May where the Stars and Stripes only lost out to Mexico in the final on a penalty shootout.
The NYCFC man scored his penalty in the final and earned a spot in the Team of the Tournament as the United States secured qualification for October’s U17 World Cup in India. Although his opportunities for MLS minutes will be limited in his first season as a professional due to U17 World Cup preparations, Sands will complete summer school in July and will train with the first-team around his international obligations.
(Photo courtesy of NYCFC)