Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

Houston Dynamo forward Giles Barnes returns from Gold Cup excited for new attacking options

Giles Barnes was having second thoughts as he stood over the ball in one of the biggest games of his life. The free kick was right on the edge of the penalty box — almost too close to coax a hard-hit ball to sink in time to hit the target. Power or placement? Side of the foot or instep?

Barnes banished the doubts, trusted in his technique and lashed a dipping free kick over the wall and into Brad Guzan’s net, stunning the Americans and helping Jamaica make history.

Dynamo fans have grown used to seeing spectacular goals from Barnes in the past three years. That magnificent strike led Jamaica to a 2-1 win over the United States in the Gold Cup semifinals in Atlanta on July 22 and reminded a national audience of his set-piece prowess.

Now back with Houston, the 26-year-old is preparing for Saturday’s road MLS clash against Sporting Kansas City (7:30 p.m. CT, ROOT SPORTS) and feels fortified by one of the best experiences of his career, even if Jamaica’s fairytale run to the final ended in the agony of defeat to Mexico.

“It was an incredible experience. Something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid was play international football so to play on a big stage like that and to get as far as we did, even though it ended in heartbreak and disappointment, we can look back and be proud of everything we achieved,” Barnes reflected at Houston Sports Park on Thursday.

Jamaica lost 3-1 to Mexico in the tournament’s climax in Philadelphia but made history by reaching their first Gold Cup final and shocking Jurgen Klinsmann’s side, who had not lost at that stage since 2003.

“Always in a final the team that gets the first goal, it settles the nerves and puts the other team under pressure. To be honest with you the final’s still a bit of a blur. It was so upsetting coming off the pitch, you’ve put so much hard work into it and a lot of emotion went into it. Maybe soon I’ll sit back and watch it and take it all in. But so proud that I was able to play at that level,” Barnes said.

After injury problems blighted the early stages of the London-born forward’s career and put his future in question, making such a significant contribution in a major tournament was further vindication of his hard work and commitment, adding to his strong performances for Houston week-in, week-out.

“It’s the stuff dreams are made of. From where I came from, being injured, I didn’t think it might have been possible five, six years ago. So to have proved medical people wrong and my own doubts wrong, it’s a very proud moment for me, for sure,” he said.

As for that free kick? A risk paid off. “I’ve been working on something where I hit the ball a little bit different from closer range. If you slow it down you can see it was kind of hit with more of a flat foot and it was a straight run-up instead of from the side, too,” he told reporters.

“A lot of the training is set-piece practice because everyone’s really fit and there are games every three days. The funny thing was I’d probably tried about ten of them the day before and only scored one. When the opportunity came, I was like, shall I try it or shall I just use my normal technique? And I thought no, I’m going to try this one here and it paid off.”

Dynamo head coach Owen Coyle wasn’t surprised to see the net ripple. “He’s a wonderful player,” he said. “There’s nothing in the Gold Cup that altered my opinion of Giles Barnes.”

Naturally, Coyle is relieved to see key contributors like last year’s club player of the year returning to Texas after a testing period with numerous absences. DaMarcus Beasley — who featured for the U.S. in their third-place playoff loss to Panama — played the first half for the MLS All Stars in their 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday and Coyle said he would assess the left back’s status for the Sporting contest on Friday.

Not that Coyle can select from a full roster against the Dynamo’s old Eastern Conference foes. Rob Lovejoy, Jermaine Taylor and Taylor Hunter are injured, Ricardo Clark picked up a knock in last Saturday’s 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy while Boniek García is building up his match fitness having not featured for the Dynamo since June 5 because of injury and international commitments.

Striker Chandler Hoffman has been loaned to the Colorado Springs Switchbacks while Indy Eleven have borrowed midfielder Zach Steinberger. “They’ll go and get games, they’ll do very well for their respective clubs and I think it’s a win-win scenario,” said Coyle.

Barnes returned to Houston to find a new teammate: designated player Erick “Cubo” Torres, who linked up with the team in mid-July after the end of his loan spell with Chivas Guadalajara. The Mexican striker made his Dynamo MLS debut as a late substitute at BBVA Compass Stadium against the Galaxy and came close to scoring.

Barnes is a fan of Torres, who mustered 22 goals in 44 career MLS starts for the now-defunct Chivas USA. “He knows where the goal is. He’s got a knack. There’s people who have a knack for scoring goals, for being in the right place at the right time — the Gary Linekers, the Filippo Inzaghis — and they just know, they have a knack. That instinct is built in him. He’s cool under pressure in front of goal as well, he doesn’t rush anything, but he’s got good link-up play too and he works hard,” he said.

“He’s a great guy. I didn’t know he spoke as much English as he does. He’s really funny, and he’s fit into the locker room straight away.”

As for how Torres might slot into the starting line-up now that last season’s top scorer is back and Will Bruin is in fine form? Barnes is excited to find out what Coyle has in store. “It’s exciting, isn’t it?” the striker said. “You’ve got Cubo who’s scored a lot of goals, you’ve got Will who’s been on fire, so if there’s a way that all three of us can play together? Let’s go.”

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.