With Kaka hurt, well-traveled Giles Barnes ready to fill huge Orlando void

ORLANDO, Fla. — Giles Barnes has been on something of a rollercoaster ride over the past nine months, but he’s hoping his arrival in Orlando will slow things down and enable him to get back to what he's known for best in the league: Scoring goals.

After bursting on to the scene with Houston in 2013 and chalking up 26 goals and 10 assists through his first 75 starts, the dynamic attacker saw his career stall in 2016 when the team struggled. He was shipped out to Vancouver last July but failed to completely click with the Whitecaps, scoring just twice in 10 appearances.

Then, late in this preseason, he found himself switching clubs again as Orlando City traded for him, with Brek Shea going in the opposite direction to Vancouver.

Now firmly in purple — and likely to get an extended run with captain Kaká sidelined with a hamstring injury — Barnes believes the wild ride has put him in good position to make an MLS impact again. And he's delighted to have the chance to be back in a primary role and equally pleased to be back on a grass field following his brief tenure in British Columbia.

“There was a lot of stuff going on in the offseason," Barnes explained. "There was interest abroad, there was interest in England, so I kind of knew I’d be on the move. Me and [Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson] had a good relationship so we’d spoken about my future, especially playing on turf for a whole year, so I wasn’t too surprised [to be traded].”

The English-born striker insisted he was keen to continue in MLS, but the possibility of a move back to Europe also loomed large.

“It was pretty close,” Barnes admitted. “There were some fine details to be ironed out but we didn’t quite cross the line. I think [Vancouver] realized how close it was and they had other targets in mind, as well. They had to prepare for the season, too, so I think it was a good move all around.

“To be honest, I never really had the intention of leaving MLS. It would be nice to be home and closer to my family, but MLS has been really good to me, and I’d like to think I’ve been good to MLS as well, so why would I not want it to continue?”

There were several factors that ultimately swayed Barnes in favor of staying in North America. Chief among them was the chance to rekindle his former goal-scoring glory with a team in need of more attacking variation — and a coach in Jason Kreis ready to let him loose.

“I’m a player who gives the team an attacking option,” Barnes said. “They know where I want to play, where I think I play best. Obviously I can play in different positions but I prefer to play centrally, whether as a striker or a midfielder. I’ve been used wide for the last year or so and I’ve not thrown up the same numbers as when I was central. I’m obviously here to do whatever the coach wants, but I want to be up there producing my best football.

“This is an exciting team with great fans and a brand new stadium. Walking out into that stadium for the first time, it’s amazing. It is top notch and it is great to be back on grass, too. I’m also working with a coach who has a wealth of experience and a winning mentality. He is very meticulous in what he wants to do and he’s going to bring success to this franchise.”

Kreis definitely sees Barnes as someone who is capable of being a key part of the attack, and who also brings leadership qualities to a team that is short of veteran savvy up front, especially while Kaká is sidelined.

“We needed to strengthen that area of the field,” the head coach said. “After we lost Kevin Molino, we had to think how we were going to get those goals back, and we could definitely use some help in that area.

“Giles’ versatility is a big plus as he can play in the wide positions or either of the two striker positions. He is a very powerful runner and someone who can really stretch the field, plus he is a voice of experience and gives us some qualities we don’t otherwise have in the group.”

But did he envision Barnes having to fill in for the injured captain?

“Yes, we brought him in thinking this is a guy who can play in any of the midfield spots,” Kreis said, “so we could definitely see him filling an important role for us.”