James Sands stood at the media wall inside New York City FC’s locker room after their 3-1 win over Minnesota on June 30. He was slightly nervous as reporters gathered around, eager to interview him for the first time.

So, how does Sands feel about, officially, being a professional soccer player?

“It’s definitely a special feeling for me,” Sands said as teammate Khiry Shelton, recording the moment, yelled out in excitement in the background. “It’s a dream come true and great to happen at a club like this.”

The 16-year-old Rye native officially started his contract July 1 and has split time between training with NYCFC’s first team, the U.S. U17’s, and school.

Sands, a product of New York Soccer Club before joining NYCFC’s academy, left his mark on the club in the Blues’ friendly against C.S. Emelec in February.

“Just taking the learning experiences from all of those helped me along the way and I got to where I am now through good training and good coaches,” Sands said.

The Homegrown Player Rule allows MLS clubs to sign players directly from their development academies and onto their first team. Players must spend at least a year with a club’s academy to be eligible to be considered Homegrown.

“He’s been really good,” coach Patrick Vieira said of Sands. “James is a kid who is coachable, takes information and understands it the first time we explain it to him. We are going to look after him and give him the best chance so he can play now for this team.

“There’s no reason why he can’t get involved during the season. It’s a long season, but at the same time, we have to be careful not to burn him out.”

Sands isn’t the only NYCFC youth player coming up. They’ve had several members of the academy train with the first team through the season. However, that doesn’t mean they’re looking to add another Homegrown player right now.

“It’s too early to make that decision,” Vieira said. “They have quality. What is important to us is to help them develop themselves.”