Giles Barnes’ international career has hit the accelerator.
After spending over a year working through the process of filing a switch of international allegiance from his native England to Jamaica, Barnes has quickly gone from debuting, and scoring, for the Reggae Boyz in March to being the one of the first names expected on the country’s roster.
His place for the first of two important summer tournaments was confirmed on Tuesday, when it was announced that he’ll be in Jamaica’s squad for the country’s first entry into the Copa América.
Barnes and his adopted homeland – where two of his grandparents hail from – were drawn into Group B of the tournament with Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
“It’s probably the second biggest tournament in the world. It’s something I grew up watching as a kid, the Copa América, and it’s going to be a fantastic experience for me and family who will be there,” Barnes told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I can’t wait to get going.”
This will be Barnes’ first lengthy foray into senior national team duty. He made his full international debut on March 27, scoring the opener and assisting on Darren Mattocks’ winner in Jamaica’s 2-1 win over Venezuela in Montego Bay.
He and Houston teammate Jermaine Taylor will leave the club after Friday’s match against the New York Red Bulls (9 pm ET, UniMas, UDN, UnivisionDeportes.com), departing for Chile to convene with the national team ahead of their tournament opener against Uruguay on June 13.
“Going and getting the start was good too and obviously scoring and an assist is sometimes what dreams are made for,” Barnes said. “I’ve got to capitalize on that and take that form into these next internationals and hopefully cement a starting spot.
“Obviously to leave my club behind is a little bit weird,” he continued. “I’ve never really done it before. Hopefully I can take my club form into international play and go and enjoy the experience.”
It’s the first landmark in what will likely be a whirlwind summer on the international stage for Barnes, who also figures to represent Jamaica at the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup. He’s hoping to carry his club form – he has six goals and one assist in 13 games for Houston – into international play, which could keep him away from the Dynamo for a lengthy period, depending on Jamaica’s progress at both tournaments.
“At the end of the day I’ve always believed in my ability to play at any level so I’m going in full of confidence,” Barnes said. “Obviously playing well for club and scoring for club puts you in a good place going into big tournaments. You’re playing against great players but at the end of the day you have nothing to fear. You’ve got to take it all in stride and it’s about coming in and trying to do what I’m doing.”
Barnes is well aware that Houston will be without him for several games while he’s away on international duty, though he’s hopeful he won’t miss too many Dynamo matches.
“[Jamaica] know how much I love playing for Houston and they know it’s important for me to come back and play for my club as well,” Barnes said. “It’s the middle of our season, it’s a little different from the European leagues and stuff, but I’ve worked it out to where I think I’m only going to miss as little as three games altogether which is really good.”
Jamaica’s final Copa América group stage game is on June 19 against Lionel Messi and Argentina, the day before Houston face the Timbers in Portland. It’s no secret the Reggae Boyz are underdogs in Chile, and if they do not advance there are two Dynamo games between the end of the group stage and the start of the Gold Cup on July 7.
While he wants to be in Houston as much as possible, he’s relishing the chance to help Jamaica make an unexpected splash this summer.
“Yeah sometimes that works for you when you’re playing against Argentina and Uruguay and you’re playing against the best players in the world,” Barnes said of his country’s underdog status. “We’ve got a good squad and we think we’re going to do well. We’re going to turn up and we’ve got enough to get through to the next round so we’re pretty optimistic about it.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.