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.”