Giles Barnes celebrated his first goal against the Montreal Impact last week by pretending to drink a cup of tea. If the forward and his teammates are to be sipping champagne at the end of the season, they know that goals and points have to keep flowing this Saturday against the Columbus Crew.
“Every game I go out to win, so does the team. We’ve got a little bit of added pressure on us because everyone else won around us, but we have to get all the points,” Barnes told HoustonDynamo.com as the side prepares to host Columbus at BBVA Compass Stadium this Saturday (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS) in one of the biggest matches of the season so far.
The Dynamo are five points behind Columbus, who are fifth and have played a game more than Dominic Kinnear’s side. With only six weeks left in the regular season, there is no denying that a win for either team on Saturday would be a significant result in the tight battle for one of the five Eastern Conference playoff places.
Another goal-scoring display from Barnes would certainly boost the Dynamo’s prospects. The 26-year-old stepped up in the absence of his injured strike partner, leading scorer Will Bruin, providing a goal in each half to earn a spot on MLSsoccer.com’s Team of the Week. The double snapped a five-game scoreless streak for the London-born attacker.
“Good to get on the scoresheet again but it was more pleasing to get the win. We need the points for the end of the season for our playoff push,” he said. “We need [teams above] to kind of slip up but we play a lot of teams in our conference … so we’ve got to take the points off them.”
After being shut out in five successive MLS matches in May and June, the Dynamo have produced 15 goals in their past nine league fixtures. “I think we’ve gelled as a team a lot better since everybody’s come back from the World Cup and from injuries so maybe that’s what’s happened,” said Barnes.
Houston were blanked out the last time they met Columbus, a 3-0 reverse at Crew Stadium last month. But Barnes said the team feels a renewed sense of confidence in its ability to handle adversity after recovering from a 2-1 deficit last weekend to secure a 3-2 victory.
“When we went a goal down that kind of sapped our energy out of us over in Columbus. If that happens again we can’t revert to that, we’ve got to be exactly as positive as we were against Montreal when we went a goal down, and we’re confident obviously after coming back against Montreal that we can do exactly the same,” he said.
For Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear, the scoring spurt is partly down to the streaky nature of soccer, but it also has plenty to do with players forcing their way into good positions and straining every sinew to be first to the ball. “It just comes and goes — getting chances, getting good opportunities, guys attacking the ball in good areas, especially on the set pieces,” he said. “Determination — we scored three different goals the other day but I think the one overriding factor was determination.”
That quality was evident in Omar Cummings’ play. In for Bruin and making his first MLS start since June 29, the Jamaican helped create Barnes’ first goal and his run and cross set up the second.
“Omar’s first step on that second goal was real positive and therefore it puts the defense on their toes. It’s always good to try and put the defense under pressure for as long as you can because hopefully they’ll bend a little bit and you can take advantage of it,” said Kinnear.
Barnes was pleased with the instant rapport he struck up with Cummings against Montreal, especially since the 32-year-old’s tendency to roam across the forward line can be unpredictable for teammates as well as opponents.
“Omar’s a good player, he’s been around the league a long time and he’s a good striker, he scores goals and he creates goals, he works hard, he’s a willing runner and everybody saw that on Saturday. I was pleased for him,” said Barnes. “Sometimes it’s like, where is Omar? But that’s part of his game, he’s good at running in channels and creating one-v-one situations for himself, he’s really quick, that’s a big asset of his so you don’t want to take that away from him.”
Barnes’ double put him on seven goals so far this season, two below the mark which saw him claim the Budweiser Golden Boot as the team's top scorer last year. He is in his second full MLS season, having signed for Houston at the end of August 2012, and believes his game has improved since last year. He already has five assists, one more than in 2013. Another way to underline that development would be to reach double figures in goals for the first time in his nine-year professional career.
“I think personally I’ve had a pretty good season, I’ve played a lot in midfield this year as well so it’s always pleasing to score a lot of goals from midfield too. So to hit that ten mark would be brilliant. It’s a target I set every season, so if I could get to that it’d be good,” he said.
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.