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James Sands hoping breakthrough Rangers season leads to World Cup involvement


James Sands enjoyed his first taste of Europe last season with Scottish Premiership club Rangers and now with six months under his belt, the American midfielder is hoping a strong start to his new campaign will lead to a permanent opportunity with the U.S. men’s national team.

Sands and his Rangers teammates are preparing for Saturday’s league opener at Livingston, the kickoff of another busy season for the New York City FC loanee. The 22-year-old spent the final six months of last season at Ibrox Stadium, helping Rangers reach the UEFA Europa League Final and win the Scottish Cup in May.

With the USMNT midfielder/defender gearing up for his next opportunity to feature in Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s squad, he already has one eye on being included in Gregg Berhalter’s World Cup roster later this fall.

“Part of my draw for the national team is being able to play both positions, especially with a 26-man roster,” Sands said in a press conference with reporters. “I think they will be looking for versatile players but when I spoke to the manager for the U.S. [Berhalter] most recently he just said I have to be playing more than I was in the spring to be considered for the team.

“I think that’s an achievable goal so I’ve just got my mind set on that,” Sands added.

Sands made 14 appearances in Glasgow last season, alternating as a starter and substitute during Rangers’ busy second-half schedule. His versatility helped him earn opportunities in a deep pool of Rangers players, and could benefit him once again with the Scottish club set for European and league action in the coming weeks.

Sands won’t be the only USMNT player in Rangers’ squad this season after fellow American Malik Tillman arrived on loan from Bayern Munich earlier this month. The 19-year-old Tillman earned his first two caps with the USMNT in June after switching his international allegiance from Germany, becoming another promising prospect in Berhalter’s growing pool of players.

Sands has yet to play a competitive match with Tillman for Rangers, but is excited for what’s to come alongside his new international teammate.

“I’d never actually met [Malik] before he got here,” Sands said. “I think he’s just switched recently to play for the U.S. but I have friends who were in camp with him recently and they all said he’s a good player and a very good person. I’m excited to have another American around.

“I think both of us have ambitions to be in the World Cup team so the only way we’re going to get there is by getting games here,” he added. “I think having someone next to you who shares similar goals is really helpful.”

Rangers will be pushing to rebound from a second-place finish last season in the Premiership, a result that featured Celtic returning as league champions and edging its Old Firm rivals. Sands still has 12 months to go on his current loan spell from NYCFC and is one of many American talents that have moved overseas to continue their overall developments.

With his long-term future still undetermined, Sands is focused on making the most of his time at Rangers and being ready for whatever position he is used in.

“I’ve always bounced around between positions and I wouldn’t say I have a preference, but obviously this is a very talented team and to break into it you need to be flexible about where you play,” Sands said. “I am ready to do both, whether that is centerback or in midfield. I think I can use my experiences from the first six months, the Europa League and big league matches can help me develop for the whole season.”


  1. I hope he does.

    We’ve got 26 spots, and could a 5/6 hybrid make our roster?

    I could see it. I’d really, really think about adding him to mine. The thing I most like about him is, he’s a great CB in a 3-man backline…and those have a place in our strategy against certain teams in Qatar.

    Our midfield is good. It is not THAT good. Sometimes we’re going to have to eke out 60 minutes at 0-0 against better teams – France, Brazil, Belgium – before we sub in the heavy hitters and go for it, and he’s a potentially key cog in that sort of strategy.

    Sorry, he is. When we can hit even-up with Brazil I’ll listen to why we don’t need a guy like Sands.

    • Yo Q,

      I’m with you. I think Sands flexibility, passing and tackling are a huge benefit to roster construction. Add in the fact the Malik and he are together AND if ‘Gers can get rolling, bringing that chemistry into the 26 could be gold. I’ve not been impressed with Mark Mc and while I appreciate CCV I think his lack of passing and positional flexibility make him limited.

      • With Malik though can’t Gio, CP, Aaronson, Ferreira, even Yunus in a pinch have the same positional flexibility? It seems like we have a lot of guys that could play 8,10,W, False 9. I know Tillman had a knock this summer so maybe didn’t show fully but I think he needs a couple people ahead to have major problems or injuries. Given the 3 extra spots and traditionally less rotation in WCs hint that positional flexibility might be less of a factor this WC as well?
        I do think Sands 6/CB combo could be more beneficial. Rangers brought him along pretty slow last year so he’s going to have to contribute more in a short time to work back in.
        On a selfish note I’d take McKenzie purely for the Orange Slices pod content.

      • JRazor,

        They have 5 subs , correct? That’s 16.
        Given the condensed time frame in a World Cup, I can’t see them varying that 16 very much. Maybe 1 or 2 guys.

        So if it is 18 players in the rotation, with the 2 spare keepers that means 6 outfield players might play little to zero minutes.

        That’s a lot of players and it argues for bringing specialists ( Zardes, Pefok, ) or so called “veteran locker room, coach on the field ” guys ( Ream, Michael Bradley) not swiss army utility types.

        Of just for fun, Wil Trapp, Nick Lima and Lovitz.

        And if you want a DM/CB Geoff Cameron combo, Erik Palmer Brown or Tim Ream have been doing that a long time and they, at least, have more time with the USMNT than Sands does. I would argue that Aaron Long could fill that role as well. And he’s a teacher’s pet lock to be there.

        So unless Sands starts making everyone at Rangers think that he is the next Los, he’s not going to Qatar. Not even as a 2026 development project, which is a bad idea anyway.

      • Vacqui: I don’t think Sands has much of a chance of making the WC. If you read the first half of my comment I don’t know that positional flexibility will be as important in Qatar either. I just think he’s got a better chance than Tillman. His hybrid DM/CB spot has more of a chance given lack of depth at the 6 and his ability to play the 6/CB hybrid role we saw against Canada in GC. I had forgotten about EPB also being able to play both. Although I couldn’t find any recent club time for EPB as a DM. Really the only DM experience that’s listed is for USYT. As for Ream he hasn’t played as a 6 in a game since April of 2015, I don’t think that’s an option especially given the ground required to play as a 6 for Berhalter. Ream will be 35 in November. The last time Long would have played any MF would have been 2016. The only with similar recent DM/CB experience to Cameron would be Sands.

      • V: I’m now also hoping Gregg names Bradley, Yueill, and Trapp to the provisional roster just to watch the Internet implode.

      • JRazor,

        What are you going to do if Jozy starts tearing up Liga MX?

        As for some of the players I listed not having played the DM position in living memory, when has a minor detail like that ever stopped this manager?

        Just hope that Jonathan Bornstein does not get hot anytime soon for Chicago . There’s your experienced World Cup vet who is a left back, and a DM.

      • Come on Vacqui, Berhalter is not Klinsmann. Other than an emergency here or there he’s not playing guys out of position. Adams played RB for RBNY and RBL, Musah was a CM coming up and was always reported in their CM plans at Valencia. Ferreira started with FCD as a CF before moving to MF now back up top. I guess Ream as a LB, I’m sure I’m forgetting someone else.
        I’ve long been a Jozy supporter, spent way too many hours back in the day arguing with Bizzy about him. If he goes on a tear I’d have no problem with him as the 3rd forward because he used to be able to combine really well with Pulisic. I don’t see it happening he just hasn’t seem to have it the last couple seasons. Injuries have just sapped that athleticism. I really think if he’d stayed healthy he could have made a run at LD and Clint’s goal total but it just wasn’t to be.

      • JR,

        As far as I’m concerned, if Jozy tears up Liga MX , shows he can play for more than 20 minutes without pulling every muscle in his body, and acts like he gives a shit then I’m taking him to Qatar.

        Everyone is whining about the lack of World Cup experience like that means something so there’s another excuse to take him.

        Sands isn’t good enough to start for Rangers and he’s not good enough to start for the USMNT .

        That may change over time but right now he’s pretty anonymous.

        I can’t think of anything he does that people who are already ahead of him in the pecking order for the USMNT can’t do as well or better. Sure , some of those people could drop off between now and the fall or get hurt or kidnapped by aliens but if the World Cup started tomorrow then Sands is nowhere near the team.

        I’d say Malik has a better chance at Qatar than Sands simply because of math.

        If Malik gets hot and starts to provide goals and/or create goal chances then that’s harder for the USMNT to find than whatever it is that Sands does well.

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