James Sands is no stranger to a big occasion having excelled alongside world greats Andrea Pirlo and David Villa at New York City.
Now the 21-year-old has been backed to prove a success at Rangers after signing an initial 18-month loan deal, with the Ibrox club retaining an option to buy.
The seven-time capped US International is capable of performing at the highest level in Europe and will prove a smash hit with Light Blues supporters, according to MLS football writer Tom Bogert.
The versatile player became Giovanni van Bronckhorst first addition since taking charge in November and the RYE, NY native arrives in Scotland on the back of most progressive season to date.
Sands made 30 appearances and started in all four play-off games on route to helping New York City secure a historic first major trophy last season, the MLS Cup.
Bogert views his best position as a deep-lying midfielder, with Sands’ standout performances in that position leading him to be named as the club’s ‘Young Player of the Year’ for 2021.
Sands joined the newly-formed NYCFC academy from its inception, representing the Under-16s before make history in 2017 as he became the first-ever homegrown player to make his senior debut against Colorado Rapids as a second half substitute for Italian legend Pirlo.
He has played an integral role in former Celtic boss Ronny Deila’s side ever since, making 69 appearances for the club.
Bogert provided an insight into what Rangers fans can expect from their new recruit, who will wear the No.19 shirt vacated by Nikola Katic.
Speaking on Clyde 1 Superscoreboard last night, he said: “Something that you’ll very quickly come to appreciate about James Sands is that he so rarely makes mistakes and you’d think he was a 28-year-old.
“He’s been like that throughout his time at NYC. His first minutes came in a friendly as a 16-year-old in Brazil in front of 40,000 fans and he’s on the field next to guys like (Andrea) Pirlo and (David) Villa.
“He was so calm and collected. You watch him once and instantly go ‘he looks a pretty good player’ and then you watch him five times in a row and you go ‘wait a minute, this kid is really good.’
“Everything he does is right, he’s tactically an A-plus, your appreciation grows for him the more you watch him and the more that he does.
“I hope at Rangers he will fit in as a defensive midfielder who can do a lot of great things in terms of deep-lying playmaking and building out possession sequences from this position.
“I think Rangers is a good fit for him. I thought he was going to be a mid-table player in the Bundesliga, that was the level I saw him at.
“This move will work very well for him because he’s going to get Europa League and European experience and then he’ll be able to play in winning sides for Rangers in the league, rather than in a relegation fight in Germany or a mid-table team in France.
“You’ll think that he’s just running around on an 11-a-side Sunday game, he’s going to be so cool, calm and collected.
“Rangers knew he was talented, they knew he had a good football brain, they knew he displayed good maturity and he was not phased by the big occasions.
“That’s what he was like when he made his World Cup qualifying debut for the United States national team.
“Every level he gets to you wouldn’t know what the stakes are. Nothing affects him, he’s got this poise about him beyond his years and he’s had this since making his MLS debut.”
Sands described 2021 as “the best year of my professional career” but is now looking forward to a fresh challenge with the Scottish champions.
He told the NYCFC website: “To be able to bring the Club its first championship is something that I will remember forever. It has been an amazing year and I couldn’t be prouder to have been a part of it – for a Club that I have been with for so long.
“I hope in some way I’ve been able to set an example and inspire other young soccer players and other players in our Academy.
“I want to thank NYCFC for everything they’ve done for me. They have always provided me with an environment to perform. This Club is a family and it has been my home since I signed, I’ve grown up here.
“New York City has a special place in my heart and I will always be a fan and will watch the games while in Scotland.
‘’While this has been a difficult decision for me to leave a Club that I love, I feel it is time in my career to test myself in another league and face a new challenge in Europe.
“Rangers is an incredible club in a very competitive league with high expectations and a passionate fanbase. It will be a fantastic learning curve for me, and one that I feel ready for.’’
New York City Sporting Director, David Lee, said: “I want to thank James for everything he has done for the Club. We’ve seen him grow up in front of our eyes since making history by becoming our first homegrown signing in 2017.
“He has become an integral part of our team and his quality and maturity is special for a player of his age. James’ work ethic and versatility to play several positions has been key to the team’s ability to be flexible and provide depth when needed.
“James is a true professional on-and-off the field, playing consistently at a high level and setting an example for all our Academy players that want to follow in his footsteps.
“We think this is a fantastic opportunity for James to develop even further while taking the next step in his career. We’ve always had fantastic dialog with James about his future and care about his progression, as we do with many of our young players.
“We’re proud to have been part of his development and he’s a testament to the talent we have here in New York and in our Academy.
“Everyone at the Club wishes him the best at Rangers and we look forward to seeing him continue to develop during this loan and reach his full potential.”