The 2014 season and the Dominic Kinnear era end on Friday night in Chicago with pride, league position and club records on the line.
A win over the Chicago Fire in Illinois (7 p.m. CT, NBCSN) could see the Dynamo rise two places to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference, depending on how the Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC fare later in the weekend.
It’s no compensation for failing to make the playoffs, but for Giles Barnes there are individual accolades at stake when the team takes the field for the last time this year.
The English forward scored against the New England Revolution last week to move ahead of Will Bruin in the race for the club golden boot. Barnes, who was top scorer last season with 9 goals, has 11 — one more than Bruin, who has only recently returned from a foot injury.
Dynamo communications manager Matt Pedersen has crunched the numbers and found that the ever-present Barnes is only 33 minutes shy of the club record for most regular season minutes by an outfield player. Geoff Cameron set that ironman achievement in 2011 with 2,970 minutes. The overall record is unbeatable: goalkeeper Tally Hall played every minute of every game in 2011 and 2013 for a total of 3,060 minutes.
Barnes has scored in three consecutive games so if he finds the net against Chicago he will become the first Dynamo player to grab a goal in four straight matches. And should he score twice on Friday he will equal the regular season scoring record set by Brian Ching, who got to celebrate 13 times in 2008.
The head coach praised Barnes’ consistency and durability. “He’s played every game for us up to now. So he’s played the most amount of minutes and he’s been productive. When you look at the season it’s been a frustrating one, it’s been a little inconsistent with lineups and players and performances but I think the one constant has been Giles playing, and playing well for us,” Kinnear told HoustonDynamo.com.
“I think he’s bought in to what the guys are like in the locker room, he’s a quick learner, he learned the league in his first [few] months … and he’s reaping the benefits of that.”
Bruin paid tribute to his strike partner. Forced to watch from the sidelines since injuring his foot scoring against Sporting Kansas City, he noted how in his absence Barnes has made an extra effort to get into dangerous areas. “Good for him, he’s scoring, that’s great for him, he’s stepped up big time when guys were going out, he got some goals and that’s all credit to him,” Bruin told HoustonDynamo.com. “I think he’s done a very good job since I came out, he’s been getting in the box.”
Bruin has made two brief substitute appearances since hurting himself in the 3-1 win over SKC in August. “It’s one of those where it’s not super bad where I want to shut it down, it’s there, it’s playable,” he said. “It’s kind of a freak thing. It’s one of those things that sums up the season, that’s just how it is.”
The litany of injuries suffered by Dynamo players this season contributed to the team missing the postseason. “Since I first got here it’s been usual, when it comes to this time of year, we make it to the playoffs. It’s unfortunate but we get time to rest and recover, then get going for next season,” defender Jermaine Taylor told HoustonDynamo.com. “It’s one of those things where the season was tough, we had a lot of injured guys and a lot of guys on national duty.”
The players are aiming to end the year in a positive way. “[Last week], in the New England game, we stepped on the field with the intention to try and win, to finish as high as possible in the standings. This game is no different, we want to try and win every game … to end the season on a good note and then look forward to the next season,” said Taylor.
With the club in the process of searching for a new general manager and a new head coach, there is also the sense that the players will be looking to impress their as-yet-unknown new bosses on Friday.
“You don’t know what happens behind the scenes with who’s been talking to who about who’s in line to be the coach or whatever, so you want to go out, perform strong in the last game of the season just because you know whoever’s put in their resume to be the coach is going to be watching,” said Bruin.
After the emotion, tributes and nostalgia during and after last week’s game against New England — Kinnear’s last home match in charge of Houston — the Chicago road trip is the final curtain for his Dynamo career as he heads for the San Jose Earthquakes after nine storied seasons.
“It’s been a weird week. With the announcement it’s been a bit odd this week coming to training and knowing that you’re not going to be here next year, getting up and driving here every day and working with the guys. It’s definitely an odd feeling,” said Kinnear.
“He’s a tremendous guy for a number of reasons. He’s pushed us, tried to get the best out of us, for me personally he got me on the path where every day you have to compete, you want to win every game whether you’re playing here practice or in a weekend game,” said Taylor.
For Bruin, Kinnear “reminds me a lot of my high school coach. Hard-nosed guy, kinda like you’d almost say old-school style. Me and him got into a few battles in my career but it’s one of those things where you both know it’s just our competitiveness and our drive and sometimes maybe we don’t agree, and we tell each other, and we thrash it out in the locker room and it’s over. That’s what you need and I think it’s good and shows a sign of respect on both sides.”
In his last game, just as it was in his first, for Kinnear it’s all about winning. “You want to try and push as high as you can no matter where you are in the season. If it comes down to the last game and you have the chance to climb above a couple of teams you have to do your best to try and do that,” he said. Regardless of the circumstances, his thirst for victory is never quenched.
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.