FRISCO, Texas—In his first 17 games after joining FC Dallas in late February, Michael Barrios played 302 minutes and put up eight shots without recording a single goal or assist.
In just nine games since, the rookie Colombian international managed more than double those totals, playing 724 minutes, putting up 12 shots, scoring five times and notching one assist.
The recent surge helps validate head coach Oscar Pareja’s theory that it's difficult for new players to contribute immediately at FCD.
“The game shows that we were right: players need time,” Pareja said. “People want players to come and perform the next day, and that’s not my methodology.
"I think as a unit, you need to respect it. I think there is tactical work that needs to be adjusted. And sometimes that takes time with a team like ours.”
Pareja made similar comments last week while explaining the protracted debuts of midseason acquisitions such as Ezequiel Cirigliano and Bakary Soumare. Cirigliano made his first appearance in the club’s 3-0 win over Columbus Crew SC last weekend – in limited minutes off the bench.
But with six months of MLS competition, Barrios has found his stride playing opposite fellow Colombian Fabian Castillo. Tasked with providing an equal threat on the wing, Barrios utilizes blazing speed and ball skills to widen opponents’ backlines and command respect on the flanks.
Standing only 5-foot-4 – shortest on the team – Barrios needed time adapting to the physicality of MLS defenders, though Pareja believes the bigger hurdle was tactical.
“I think the obstacle was he knowing the league and how defenders act in the league,” Pareja said. “Now, he’s understanding. It’s different from one league to the other. He understands now the movements of the players, and he feels confident about taking advantage of the skills he has.”
The 24-year-old also noted that his transition required more emphasis on controlling the ball and getting back quickly on defense.
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Barrios understands increased production, might mean teams begin defending him differently, with the next test against New York City FC on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
“They will probably put more people on me,” said Barrios, through a translator. “But I have to train better, train faster and do whatever I can to get open and score goals.”
Pareja compared Barrios’ progression to that of former MLS MVP David Ferreira. But if Barrios even approaches Ferreira’s heights with FC Dallas, the acquisition will be a success. Given Barrios’ development remains nascent, Pareja is happy comparing the attributes of the two players and basking in how far Barrios has come in just seven months.
“We were talking this week about it,” Pareja said. “I think his center of gravity is as low as Ferreira’s. He has that center very low, and his legs and his body are strong. He has that ability to turn in small spaces and change the pace and control his balance really well. I’m impressed with the way he’s now taking the league and helping us.”