In speaking to the media on Thursday via a Zoom call from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where the Columbus Crew is in the first stage of the team’s 2022 preseason, head coach Caleb Porter more than hinted that his team was about to make a signing at left back.
“We’ve got a young player that we’ve signed that’s going to be a really good No. 2 we think,” Porter said when asked about winger Pedro Santos playing left back this season. “One of the best left backs in college who’s come out.”
Just a day later, Porter’s hint came to fruition as the Crew announced the signing of defender Will Sands through the 2023 season with options for 2024 and 2025. The Black & Gold acquired Sands’ MLS Homegrown Priority from New York City FC in exchange for $50,000 in General Allocation Money for 2022. There is also potential for additional allocation money to go from Columbus to New York City should Sands meet certain performance-based incentives.
“Will is a versatile defender and we are excited to have him join the Crew,” Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in the announcement. “We look forward to seeing the progression of his development within a competitive, professional environment.”
Sands is the twin brother of U.S. international James Sands, who is on loan with Rangers in the Scottish Premiership from NYCFC where he has played since 2017. While his brother went straight to the professional ranks after playing for City’s Academy, Will took the collegiate route, committing to Georgetown.
Will spent the past three seasons playing for the Hoyas. He was a reserve on Georgetown’s 2019 national championship team, making 21 appearances that year, and helped the Hoyas win three Big East regular season titles and two Big East Conference Tournaments (2019 and 2021) during his time in Washington D.C. In total, the Rye, New York native made 52 appearances for the Hoyas, scoring four goals and registering five assists.
“It’s hard to find someone who is fast, left-footed and athletic,” James said of his brother when speaking to The Washington Post for a story on the twins last year. “Those are rarities in American soccer. Someone with his skill set, he will turn a lot of heads, for sure.
Sands also has experience at the international level, representing the United State on the Under-17 and Under-19 age groups. Prior to going to Georgetown, Sands played at the IMG Academy as a freshman and sophomore. He was one of 28 players selected for U.S. Residency Program at IMG in order to prepare for U-17 World Cup in India in 2017.
With Milton Valenzuela not set to return to the Crew — the player and the club have failed to come to an agreement on a new contract — Santos was pegged as the starter at left back heading into the 2022 season. But given the Portuguese will turn 34 early in the year, depth at the position was necessary.
Sands, who has played a number of different positions, including on the wing and at forward, provides similar attacking abilities down the flank as Santos but with youthful legs, while also bringing experience at the left back position.
“I think with those two, we’ll be in good shape,” Porter said of Santos and Sands.
Columbus Crew 2022 roster
Goalkeepers: Evan Bush, Eloy Room, Patrick Schulte, Brady Scott
Defenders: Jalil Anibaba, Jonathan Mensah, Steven Moreira, Jake Morris, Will Sands, Josh Williams
Midfielders: Artur, Sebastian Berhalter, Luis Diaz, Derrick Etienne Jr., Marlon Hairston, Perry Kitchen, Alex Matan, Kevin Molino, Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe, Isaiah Parente, Pedro Santos, Yaw Yeboah, Sean Zawadzki, Lucas Zelarayan
Forwards: Miguel Berry, Gyasi Zardes