When Giles Barnes arrived from Europe, he was supposed to be the spark in the Houston Dynamo midfield. But then things have rarely turned out exactly like they're supposed to for Barnes during his eight years as a professional.
This time, however, that's a good thing for all involved.
More than a year after putting his career in the hands of Dominic Kinnear, the once-hyped English prospect was celebrating the goal that put the Dynamo in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Not as a midfielder, though, instead as a forward who had just scored his fourth headed goal of the season (and ninth overall) in the 39th-minute of Sunday’s 2-1 victory against D.C. United.
After moving up the field, a move he actually campaigned for, Barnes' play is providing plenty of sparks at the right time, and that's exactly what Houston were hoping for as they head into a Knockout Round game with the Montreal Impact on Thursday night (8:30 pm ET; NBCSN, TSN2/RDS in Canada).
“It’s definitely confidence going towards the playoffs,” Barnes told MLSsoccer.com after Houston's regular-season finale. “Main thing is I’ve been playing well and doing my job for the team. I always believed in my abilities when I get chances in front of goal.”
And about those headers, “I didn’t really know too much about it myself,” he said. “I’ve always been used on attacking set pieces as the one taking them. When you’ve got Brad [Davis’] and Boniek [Garcia’s] delivery, it’s on me to get in the mixer and get on the end of things.”
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That role is part of the adaption process as Barnes becomes more comfortable with his forward role in his second season with the Dynamo, but his strength and sneaky speed have also made him a viable weapon at the top of the attack. In fact, those skills, along with his partnership with Will Bruin, had Houston looking like a mismatch for D.C.’s center-back duo of James Riley and Daniel Woolard.
“We talked about these being two center backs we thought we could turn around and get an advantage with his strength,” head coach Dominic Kinnear told MLSsoccer.com. “It got him through.”
Within 40 minutes, Barnes had drawn a penalty by using his speed on Riley, and he his physical presence to claim space on a corner that produced the season-extending goal.
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Playing a part in the goals, Barnes put on a Man of the Match-type performance on Sunday, an outing that should give him playoff momentum after some inconsistent moments this season.
There was none of those on Sunday, however.
“We expect a lot of each other and went in [Sunday] with a bit of confidence,” Barnes said. “Everyone believes in each other, it’s just that extra bit of reassurance going into the playoffs.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.