Giles Barnes' move forward pays off: "I knew I could play that role, it worked out pretty well"

Late position change for Barnes provides him the opportunity to end 2013 as leading goalscorer

In the second of our series of interviews with Dynamo award winners, HoustonDynamo.com caught up with 2013‘s top regular-season scorer, Giles Barnes

On the eve of the season, Giles Barnes was expecting to assume the creative midfield role he’s played throughout his career. Things turned out a little differently and he ended the year as the Dynamo’s most prolific striker.

If the late position change came as a mild surprise to the 25-year-old Englishman, his success in attack did not. Barnes was confident he would flourish higher up the field and the end result was nine regular-season MLS goals, good enough for the Budweiser Golden Boot just ahead of last year’s winner, Will Bruin, who notched eight.

Signed by Houston in the summer of 2012, the former Derby County and West Bromwich Albion starlet achieved career highs in starts and goals this season and provided four MLS assists. His 94 shots were the seventh-most in the league.

Renowned as an attacking midfielder who can play centrally or out wide, Barnes said he first discussed moving up front with Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear at the conclusion of the 2012 campaign. “I said in an end-of-season meeting I’d like to do it, he agreed. [But] in preseason I was more in central midfield,” he said.

However, Omar Cummings’ longer-than-expected recovery from knee surgery opened up a vacancy alongside Bruin, and shortly before the curtain-raiser against D.C. United, Kinnear and Barnes reconvened during training and the idea was revived.

“I think it was the Thursday or the Friday before the game—a slightly more advanced role. He gave me the chance, I’ve never looked back,” said Barnes. “I knew I could play that role, it worked out pretty well. I like to get forward, attack, score goals, create.”

According to Opta, four of Barnes’ goals were struck with his right foot, four were headers and all but one came from inside the box. Few were easy finishes. “I’d like to get a few more tap-ins. Your tally goes from 10 to 15-20 when you start scoring tap-ins,” he said. “It’s the poacher’s mentality, you have to work on that kind of stuff.”

Typically operating a few yards behind Bruin, Barnes struck up a solid understanding with his strike partner both on and off the field. “We started to form a nice partnership on and off the pitch. A lot of strikers want to be the main man. We were really happy for each other when we scored,” he said.

Those four headers placed Barnes joint-second in MLS in that category with Eddie Johnson, behind only Tim Cahill, who scored eight. The Londoner enjoyed the novelty of being asked to meet crosses rather than take them. “I’ve got a decent leap, I’m a strong boy, but I’ve always been the one delivering,” he said.

He also staked his case for the job of Brad Davis’ deputy at set-pieces with a fine free-kick goal against FC Tucson in the U.S. Open Cup. “It was nice to score a free kick, nice to show that when he’s away I can do that,” said Barnes.

Though he did not find the net during the postseason, Barnes made a huge contribution in hauling the Dynamo into the playoffs. Against United on the final day of the regular season he was brought down early on for a penalty converted by Boniek García, then, with matters tied at 1-1, headed home a Davis corner for what proved to be the decisive goal.

His favorite of 2013? A thumping high 30-yard strike against Seattle Sounders at BBVA Compass Stadium in August. The 21st-minute goal came only four minutes after he had given the Dynamo the lead with another crashing shot. Voted AT&T MLS Goal of the Week, it ensured Barnes grabbed the headlines that night ahead of his former Fulham teammate, Clint Dempsey.  

Barnes was back in England for Christmas, where it seems that he is not the only member of his family with an eye for goal. Marcus Barnes has recently signed a professional contract with Southampton. Though he has just turned 17, he is already scoring frequently at the Under-18 level for the English Premier League club—and growing fast.

“He’s been watching me for a long time,” Giles said. “He’s a striker/wide player, similar to me. When I went away he was a little kid, I’ve come back and I’m looking up to him now.”

Seeing his brother in action has made the Dynamo forward eager to make a start on 2014, with the promise of plenty more goals to come: “I’m itching to get going,” he said.

Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.