HOUSTON – Will Bruin has been forced to refine his relationship-building skills over the past year-and-a-half.
Establishing himself as a starter for good in 2012 for the Houston Dynamo, the spot next to him has been a revolving door. Last year alone, Bruin worked with three different partners in Brian Ching, Mac Kandji and Calen Carr, and that was when he did not play alone in a 4-3-3.
While the partnerships all looked good for a time, injury, player movement and formations all played roles in dissolving forward pairings and put head coach Dominic Kinnear in the position of having to find another combination.
Five games into 2013, the Dynamo's partnership of Giles Barnes and Bruin has shown signs of being a potential solution. The pair of young strikers has come alive in the last two games, scoring three goals combined and exhibiting the work-rate and runs that have traditionally made the club dangerous.
“I think it looks pretty good,” Kinnear said of the pairing. “I think there were a couple times in the [San Jose Earthquakes] game where they seemed to be looking for each other, and that comes from playing together more than just throwing them out there for just a game or two.”
The pairing came to be out of necessity as much as selection. With Omar Cummings rehabbing his right knee, Cam Weaver looked to be the choice next to Bruin out of preseason. But an injury opened a spot for Barnes, who was considered a playmaking midfielder upon his summer 2012 arrival, and the creative Englishman has taken hold of it.
It wasn't all smooth going, though – with the new pairing came the expected growing pains.
With Barnes playing underneath Bruin it meant the pair had to get on the same page when it came to matters of how to space the field and create dangerous combinations. Through four games – two in MLS and two in CONCACAF Champions League play – they were working out the kinks.
"I remember one game where we both checked, and then we saw the other check so we both peeled away and then we saw that and then we both checked again,” Bruin recalled. “We’re still feeling each other out but we’re getting used to each other. We’re combining well and we’re going to put up goals.”
Things started to turn versus the Vancouver Whitecaps. According to Barnes, Kinnear stationed him closer to Bruin and the move and the communication between the two produced an interchange where the staggered pair has started to work well off each other.
As a result, Barnes scored against the Whitecaps and then against the San Jose Earthquakes both strikers got on the board.
Will the pair stick for the long-term? There is no guarantee. With Cummings and Weaver back from injury they could play a role up top. But for now, the Dynamo have a forward pairing that is starting to pay dividends.
“We’re always looking for each other and I think that makes a good partnership. We want each other to succeed,” Barnes said. “It’s still not perfect but it’s something that’s been good and hopefully it’ll continue to be fruitful as well.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.