James Sands at Rangers: Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Reyna's reference and Team USA role revealed
He’s been coached by Patrick Vieira, worked with David Villa daily and seen Andrea Pirlo’s maverick qualities up close at New York City FC, but playing at Rangers is going to be another step up for James Sands – one his national coach is sure he is capable of taking.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst made the 21-year-old his first signing at Ibrox, securing an 18-month loan for the defender who has seven caps under Gregg Berhalter at Team USA.
But having worked with such luminaries during his time in the Big Apple, it is another major player in American ‘soccer’ history believed to have played a key role in the deal – former Ranger Claudio Reyna. His past playing relationship with van Bronckhorst is well documented, and Berhalter is sure the contact played its part in moving the ‘quietly intense’ Sands onto the next stage of his development.
“I think Giovanni is a smart coach, and sees James as a valuable player. I am sure he reached out to Claudio for a reference,” he said. “It is a lot to do with James’ qualities. He is a very good player, a very versatile player and he would do well for a lot of clubs so I think it is a great signing for Rangers.
“At a young age, James had experiences of being around some really top quality players. Being around David Villa every single day, being coached by Patrick Vieira is helpful and seeing Pirlo and all these top players up close, seeing their training habits and what they bring each and every day is important for a player’s development.
"I think Rangers is a great stepping stone for James – a top club in Scotland, playing at the highest level of European football and a great team to experience what winning and competing for titles and Champions League is really about.
"James has done well in MLS and now he is moving to another level where he is going to be challenged.”
Moving to Scotland didn’t halt call-ups for his fellow countrymen like Reyna, who picked up 19 caps at Ibrox while Maurice Edu won 31 and Carlos Bocanegra 12. Team USA have big plans for Sands if he continues on the same trajectory that has seen him progress through the NYCFC Academy to this season’s play-off title under Ronny Deila and international recognition.
“I think about his Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers performances – it is going to be a great opportunity for him to continue to grow at Rangers. We are going to monitor him closely because we think he can play a big role with the national team,” Berhalter added. “Rangers has a great history of Americans, with Reyna starting it off, then I think about Edu, I know James is doing to fit in and do really well.
"He is excellent at reading the game and competes in every play. He is quiet, but leads with quiet intensity. He is a guy that is always focused on his role, always focused on performing and a fierce competitor. In the locker room, he is quiet. But on the field he changes his personality and becomes much more aggressive.
"He wants to win every play that he is in and every game that he is in.”