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Patrick Vieira’s instant ‘special’ reaction to James Sands as Rangers new boy amazed New York City chiefs

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James Sands made such an impression on his New York City debut that one of the best midfield players to play the game was instantly amazed.

He also gave David Villa a thing or two to think about with his performance as a 16-year-old and sporting director David Lee revealed everyone knew right away they had a brilliant player.

He signed a five-year deal last year but it came with the knowledge that the club would be happy to let him head to Europe if an opportunity arose.

It did when Rangers came calling and he signed an 18-month loan deal with an option to buy at the end of it and if he’s as good as those involved in New York City think he is, then he’s sure to be a permanent player at Ibrox after that.

Lee recalls watching Sands on his debut and they instantly had to figure out a way to get him first team football because he had impressed the likes of Villa and Patrick Vieira so much.

Lee told the Athletic: “We saw that we really had a really fantastic person on our hands first but also a phenomenal player on our hands.

“He settled into the group really quickly and performed excellently in training and the games as well. From there on we were looking at how do we give him the right pathway, get him into our first team and give him the journey he deserves?

“Everybody was so impressed. There is a relatively famous moment, inside New York City FC at least, that everyone will remember.

“James was 16 and played as a holding midfielder and was just fantastic. It was a packed stadium and an incredible atmosphere, he was the most calm player on the pitch. After the game Patrick and even David Villa said, ‘Ooh, this boy has something really special’.”

Although he played that game in defensive midfield, he’s also been used at centre back and at right back and Lee admits his versatility helps him.

He was a regular as Ronny Deila’s men lifted the MLS Cup and he explained how he was capable of playing anywhere because he’s so tactically aware.

That’s good news for Giovanni van Bronckhorst who will be looking to fit him into a Rangers side that has been impressive since he took over.

Lee added: “Tactically he is outstanding. He reads the game fantastically well and he’s technically excellent whether playing centre-back or midfield. They’re the things that can sometimes go unnoticed but they don’t when you work with him. He’s worked with three head coaches now and everyone has tried to find a way to put him in the team as he helps the team regardless of position.

“It all depends on the team and system you play. He went to the national team and played in midfield and then in a back four and a back three so even at that level they’re valuing his versatility. It’s difficult to say he’s better in one position but what he does do is give coaches options and decisions in-game to move him into other positions to change shape, the tempo of the game without having to make a sub as he can adapt so quickly.

“We were all really proud when he went to the national team in the summer as we felt he probably deserved a call-up slightly earlier since his performances have been so good for so long. To see him win the Gold Cup and be a key part of the team was really fantastic for us and just reward for how well he has played.”



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D.C. United transfers Kevin Paredes to Wolfsburg

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Given Paredes’s talent, United recognized it would lose him to a European club at some point in the next year or so. Nonetheless, it hoped he would, at the very least, start the MLS season, then perhaps move this summer or next winter. But Paredes’s value continued to rise overseas, and the offers became too hard to resist.



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Canada vs. USA: How to watch and stream, preview of World Cup qualifier

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Both Canada and the US earned victories this past Thursday to keep pace in their bids to reach the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Canada sit atop the eight-team Octagonal standings with 19 points, with the USMNT one point behind (18) and in second place in the race for three automatic World Cup berths.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s game.





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VfL Wolfsburg swoops for D.C. United homegrown star Kevin Paredes

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D.C. United homegrown Kevin Paredes is making the big move, with VfL Wolfsburg swooping in to bring the Virginia native to the Bundesliga. Terms were not reported by either club, but The Athletic’s Pablo Maurer has reported the German side is putting up $7.35 million in their initial transfer fee, with United getting an additional $500,000 if Paredes meets certain benchmarks relating to appearance totals. The Black-and-Red would also be due 10% of any transfer fee Wolfsburg brings in by selling Paredes’ rights in the future.

“We couldn’t be prouder and happier for Kevin to follow his dreams to compete in a great league like the German Bundesliga,” said Dave Kasper, United’s President of Soccer Operations, in a team press release. “Kevin’s rapid rise from our Academy to a first team starter is a testament to his desire, talent, and commitment, as well as a lot of hard work and support from our great coaches and staff at the club. All of us at the club wish Kevin a very long and successful professional career.”

“We are extremely proud of Kevin and the work that he has done to earn his opportunity to play at the highest level in Europe,” said United GM Lucy Rushton. “As a Homegrown, this transfer reflects the commitment and investment our ownership have made in our Academy infrastructure to prepare Kevin to fulfill his lifelong dream. We want to thank him for representing the club with so much pride and wish him the best of luck in his next chapter in the top flight of European soccer.”

Paredes, 18, made his debut in professional soccer with Loudoun United late in the 2019 USL Championship season, and his rise since then has been remarkable. D.C. United offered him a homegrown contract that winter, and while the MLS season was disrupted by Covid-19, a series of injuries and struggles as a club opened the door for Paredes to show what he could do. After making his debut in the MLS is Back Tournament that summer, Paredes used the next couple of months to assert himself as not just a promising youngster, but a player who was going to be a factor every week.

In 2021, under Hernán Losada, Paredes was first-choice whenever healthy, thriving as the team’s left wingback and quickly becoming a fan favorite thanks to his dribbling ability and high-energy style of play. In the end, Paredes made 41 appearances (28 starts) in his two seasons with United.

United will be able to convert $1.05 million of the fee into General Allocation Money (GAM), which they have stockpiled of late. Paredes’ departure comes two days after United made an MLS-record GAM trade, sending Paul Arriola to FC Dallas in a deal possibly worth up to $2.3 million. However, the club has also moved plenty of GAM in the meantime, sending $750,000 to the Seattle Sounders to acquire Brad Smith — very likely the player who will step into Paredes’ shoes on the left — just yesterday.

It’s been a furious remodel for United lately, who have also announced that they’ve signed Designated Player Taxiarchis Fountas on a pre-contract from Rapid Vienna, and have been strongly linked to a loan move for Toluca and Ecuador striker Michael Estrada.

The news of Paredes moving to Wolfsburg serves on one hand as an example to promising young players that United is capable of bringing a talent along quickly. Paredes went from academy program, to Loudoun, to starting at Audi Field, to the Bundesliga in very little time. Despite a record of giving more minutes to homegrown players than the majority of MLS clubs, United has to some extent had a reputation in youth soccer circles that was not favorable.

The club’s Pathway to Pro program was enacted to help change that, and between teenagers like Paredes, Moses Nyeman, and Griffin Yow getting first-team minutes, and Ryan Martin fielding one of the younger teams in the USL Championship over the last two seasons, there is a clear emphasis on shifting that perception. Paredes moving to the Bundesliga at 18 years old will go a long way on that front.

On the other hand, United’s hopes on the field take a hit with the move. Paredes, along with Andy Najar and Julian Gressel, were the players in 2022 that had to be at their best for United to hit top gear. Losing Paredes’ dribbling ability on the left, even with an experienced and respected replacement already in place, will be an obstacle for Losada and co. on the field this season.





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