Houston Dynamo's Giles Barnes will face familiar foes against Toronto FC
"We've had a few injuries, we've had a few people with the national team and we've had a few results not go our way, so we're looking to rectify that against Toronto. They're coming off a win but we're back at home and feeling good about it," said the forward.
Toronto beat struggling D.C. United last week for their first victory in eleven league games. That may boost the Canadians' self-belief as they arrive in Texas, but they have not claimed back-to-back MLS wins since last July.
The potential good news for the Dynamo's attack is that Toronto are yet to keep a clean sheet in 14 MLS games this season. They are second-bottom of the Eastern Conference, but Toronto always keep it close: a 2-0 defeat to the New England Revolution last month is the only time in MLS that they have lost by more than one goal.
Last season both games between the clubs at BBVA Compass Stadium were draws, as was the meeting in April at BMO Field, when a last-gasp Warren Creavalle equalizer secured the Dynamo a dramatic point. "I think Warren Creavalle has been brilliant whenever he's been called upon," said Barnes.
Toronto's rookie head coach is the former D.C. United defender Ryan Nelsen, a New Zealand international who played in England with Tottenham Hotspur, Blackburn Rovers and Queens Park Rangers.
After finishing bottom of the Eastern Conference last year, Toronto have embarked on a huge amount of player turnover in pursuit of a winning formula. Of the 14 players who featured at BBVA Compass Stadium in a 1-1 draw last August, only seven are still with the club.
Toronto recently acquired the former U.S. winger Bobby Convey from Sporting Kansas City. Nelsen has used his knowledge of British soccer to seek new recruits with mixed results. Midfielder John Bostock was sent back to Tottenham after his loan was terminated last month, while borrowed playmaker Hogan Ephraim returned to QPR two weeks ago.
But the veteran former Cardiff City striker Robert Earnshaw has been a huge hit in Ontario and leads the club with six goals. And Steven Caldwell arrived last month and has helped tighten up the back line. The 32-year-old is a Scottish international defender who has played for the likes of Newcastle United, Sunderland, Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic.
He faced Barnes when both were in England. "He's kicked me a few times," the 24-year-old joked. "He's a good player, a good seasoned professional, he goes about his work very well day in, day out. I'm not going to change my game specifically for one person; I'm going to be looking to get on the ball as much as possible, create opportunities for myself and for the team as well."
Barnes is hoping for a goalscoring performance to make amends for his penalty miss in last Wednesday's 2-0 defeat to the Montreal Impact, but that failure has not dented his confidence.
"It was a poor penalty by me. I practice every day...I kind of changed my mind at the last minute which I really shouldn't have, but if the chance is there to take it again I definitely [would]," he said.
The striking partnership between Barnes and Will Bruin has prospered, with four goals apiece. But the Dynamo have only scored two goals in their past five MLS fixtures, despite fashioning plenty of opportunities.
"Me and Will, whoever's breaking from midfield, anyone else who's having shots on goal, it's not like we're hiding, we're trying to get in the right spots and the chances will come. We've hit the post, we've hit the bar, 'keepers have made good saves, we've just missed by inches. Once one goes in I'm sure the floodgates will open," said Barnes.
"It's just little tweaks, little things that haven't gone for us. We thought we started off slowly against Montreal so that'll be something we'll look to get rid of – we'll be looking to start nice and positively, get ourselves back on a winning streak."
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.