Giles Barnes has the ability to be one of the most influential players in MLS. The 6-foot-2 attacker can create excitement from all over the attacking third, especially with the ball at his feet and his head down.
But those highlight-reel plays he was consistently producing early this season – leading to six goals in his first nine games – have been harder to come by in the summer months.
Playing in the Copa America and Gold Cup with Jamaica and moving around the field has played a role in his slowed pace, having gone scoreless in seven MLS games since May 16.
It isn’t an ideal situation with Houston currently sitting outside the Western Conference playoff spots in seventh place. But as Barnes evolves into a new role as an attacking midfielder with the Dynamo, he’s not feeling any added pressure to produce goals.
“Not really,” Barnes told MLSsoccer.com when asked if he worries about the goal column. “I think I’ve played [18 games] this year, so that’s still one in three from midfield. It’s still a pretty good stat when you’re playing from midfield. Obviously I’d like to be a little bit higher in the goals chart; it just depends game by game.
“If I’m up front I’ll be looking to score, if I’m in midfield I’m looking for other things. I just take it game by game, I don’t really let the scoring fuss me.”
Head coach Owen Coyle echoed Barnes’ sentiments. Instead of pressure, Coyle sees value in the play his star player brings to the field that doesn’t show up on the score sheet.
“I never worry about a player of that caliber,” Coyle said. “You only need to see the pass he supplied for DaMarcus Beasley for his goal. He’s been outstanding. He’s outstanding, he’s a top player and anybody in the league would love to have him, that’s the quality he’s got. I feel very privileged and delighted we have him at this club.”
Part of Barnes’ absence from the stat sheet could be the role he’s played. He’s moved around the pitch quite a bit this season playing anywhere from a second striker, advanced midfielder to a true center midfielder against San Jose Earthquakes and will float out to the wing at times.
It makes finding a position descriptor hard and also makes the standard by which he’s judged tough as well. With as much time as he’s spent away from the forward line, a reclassification to a midfielder or attacker may be needed.
When Barnes has played closer to goal during his time with the Dynamo, he’s been his most productive goal-wise. Playing alongside or close to striker Will Bruin has yielded two seasons with at least nine goals and a fast start this year.
“If I can help the team, whether it’s the secondary pass or making the assist or if I beat two people it draws two people out. I feel as though I’ve drawn more attention this year than I have in previous years as well. I feel like every time I get the ball I look to get kicked down,” said Barnes who’s been on the receiving end of 37 fouls this season. “For me that’s good because you draw a couple of players out, and it makes someone else free. But it’s something me, Owen and the staff have highlighted that I’m one to receive a few kickings.”
Whether its goals, assists or simply opening up play, the Dynamo need Barnes to be effective if they’re going to push their way into the playoffs. Either way, neither Barnes nor Coyle is worried.
“When I’m in that deeper midfield role I try and get on the ball as much as possible and start the play and get the passing going,” Barnes said. “Whether I have to dribble someone or make the slide or make the pass like I made to Beas, at the end of the day I’m very team focused. The individual accolades are nice – it’s the team that lifts the trophy.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.