Jamaica exited the Copa at the group stage but the underdogs performed creditably, losing to Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina by a score of 1-0 each time.
The prestigious 12-team tournament in Chile was special for Barnes, who started two matches and came on as a late substitute against an Argentina line-up featuring Barcelona star Lionel Messi. “I got to play against the greatest footballer of all time, I got to represent my country,” the forward told reporters at Houston Sports Park.
“Growing up you never think you’re going to grace the same pitch as a Lionel Messi. It was a great experience, it was great to watch him play and just to see how much of a cut above everyone else he is.
“He’s a wonderful footballer. He sees things that no one else sees, doesn’t miss a pass, he can face you and go [past you on either side], you can’t stop him. You always think, maybe he’s not as on a pedestal as everyone says he is; he’s even better. So it was good to see him.”
Born in London, Barnes played for England as a junior but qualifies for Jamaica through his family heritage. He scored on his Reggae Boyz debut in a 2-1 exhibition win over Venezuela in March.
“It was one of the tournaments I watched growing up a kid, watching [Brazilians] Robinho and Ronaldinho. To go to such a prestigious tournament like that, it was incredible,” he said.
Barnes and defender Taylor were named to Jamaica’s 23-man roster for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup and will join up with the team after the July 3 Military Appreciation Night game against the Chicago Fire at BBVA Compass Stadium.
While disappointed not to progress in the Copa, Barnes is always happy to return to Houston. “I love coming back and seeing the boys and the gaffer, all the staff as well, it’s family here … it’s just such a great feeling coming back into the locker room,” he said.
The Dynamo’s target is to be feeling fantastic at the final whistle following Friday’s match at Toyota Stadium (8 p.m. CT, UniMás). The clash with FC Dallas is the second of three regular season Texas derbies this year; the Dynamo travel back up I-45 on October 4. Coyle, the head coach, believes lessons have been learned from last month’s 4-1 defeat to Dallas in which the Dynamo defense was exposed on the counter-attack.
“If we analyze it, as a group I don’t think we defended well enough. They were clinical but equally we’ve got to defend those instances better,” Coyle told reporters.
Óscar Pareja’s side followed up their win at BBVA Compass Stadium with a 2-1 victory over the reigning MLS Cup champions, the Los Angeles Galaxy, but have not won in MLS since, drawing three matches and losing three. They tied 1-1 with the Colorado Rapids last Friday.
Dynamo captain Brad Davis is listed as probable on the injury report. He missed last Saturday’s 2-0 road loss to the Portland Timbers with a right knee bone bruise. “I don’t think we performed to the standard we have but we certainly merited taking something from the game,” said Coyle of the Timbers defeat, which saw a Raúl Rodríguez “goal” contentiously ruled out when there was no score. Portland’s goals were their only shots on target.
After visiting Frisco the Dynamo return home to host the Rapids in the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday (7.30 p.m. CT). A Houston win tomorrow will see Coyle’s men draw level on points with Dallas, who currently occupy the final postseason berth in the Western Conference.
After Friday the Dynamo will have played 17 regular season MLS games, marking the halfway point in the campaign. Though next month will be marked by the absences of several key players thanks to the Gold Cup, Coyle is confident that his team can more than hold its own against any opponent.
“Moving forward we know we’re capable of getting those wins. Come the end of the season I certainly believe we’ll be in those playoffs. If you offered me to play anybody home and away tomorrow, it wouldn’t faze me, from what I’ve seen,” he said.
“Saturday was hurtful in the respect that we didn’t get any points but Dallas gives us the opportunity to get back on the horse, get ourselves going. We know in the big scheme of things we’ll get what we need.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.