As we look forward to the upcoming start to the 2013 season, there is a familiar excitement in the air. Sure the normal butterflies about opening day are there, but I'm speaking more of what the new year brings in terms of the Dynamo midfield. To be more specific, how I'm expecting 2013 to be the year Giles Barnes takes the Dynamo to the next level.
If you've been able to make it out to a Dynamo practice or one of the many scrimmages over the last month, I'm sure Barnes has caught your attention with his outstanding preseason. The English midfielder is in top form and could work his way into the starting lineup and remind fans of something we had in 2006-08 - a true attacking midfielder (aka Dwayne De Rosario).
Here's my bold prediction - Adam Moffat will become a bench player and Giles Barnes will secure the central attacking midfield spot for Houston this year.
Last season, the partnership of Moffat and Ricardo Clark was a big reason Houston made it to the MLS Cup for the second year in a row. The two natural defensive midfielders paired well together and ultimately neutralized the opposition.
Naturally, you'd like to see an attacking player in the 4-4-2 formation who can draw in defenders, create chances, and distribute the ball accurately. With Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia manning the flanks, finding a true CAM wasn't a necessity for Dominic Kinnear.
To be honest, it's not a necessity in 2013 either. So what's different?
Barnes has shown flashes of the potential he was once praised for. This is precisely what Kinnear and the Dynamo saw in Barnes when they brought him to Houston in 2012. Imagine the possibilities if the 24 year old midfielder would get over the injury concerns that hindered his progress in recent years. Imagine the possibilities if one of the biggest young prospects in England, who was given another chance by arguably the best coach in MLS history, finally broke out and recaptured the abilities that so many teams took notice of in years past.
Well this is the year that Giles can make his mark on not only Houston, but Major League Soccer. It's a chance to silence his critics. And trust me, after doing extensive research about Barnes' history for this post, I've ran across a ton of those critics (people can be harsh). He's healthy - aside from his recent collar bone injury. And this latest setback shouldn't keep him out too much longer. He's expected to travel with the club to South Carolina for the Carolina Challenge Cup and hopefully will see some action in the last few scrimmages of the preseason.
Not only does Barnes have the potential, for a young midfielder he has some pretty impressive experience to go along with it. At only 17 years of age, Barnes broke onto the scene with Derby County and immediately started making a name for himself. The young prospect helped the team earn promotion and was named Derby's "Young Player of the Year" for the 2006-2007 season.
Two separate injuries to his foot and knee slowed the forward progress Barnes was experiencing, but it appears the injury concerns are completely behind him. Prior to coming to Houston, Barnes was getting some attention with his play in the Championship league with the Doncaster Rovers. With his fitness and form back, he appeared in 36 total matches for Doncaster. The Rovers finished last in the standings and were relegated at the end of the year.
In August of 2012, he made his move to MLS and the Houston Dynamo looking for a starting spot and to be part of a winning side. He quickly integrated into the team and appears to be enjoying his time in Houston. At the end of the season, the Dynamo made it clear they wanted Barnes back in orange and the two sides were able to come to an agreement to brink the midfielder back to Houston for 2013.
With Barnes' history and with his potential in mind, you have to imagine the Dynamo feel he could become a big piece of the midfield puzzle.
As I walked out of BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday during the first ever Fan Fest, President Chris Canetti was being interviewed by Yahoo Sports Radio host John Wessling. The interview was played throughout the stadium speakers and as I made my way towards the parking lot, Canetti was talking about the departure of Dwayne De Rosario and how ultimately the club felt like it wouldn't have impacted the team quite as badly because Stuart Holden was considered the answer at attacking mid. Obviously, Holden's play quickly captured some overseas attention and our replacement for DeRo was quickly gone before he could even blossom in Houston. Admittedly, Canetti said the team didn't foresee that coming.
That got me thinking about Barnes, his preseason form, and the year ahead.
Giles Barnes has the potential to be the "answer" the Dynamo have been looking for. It's been a while since the team has had that creativity and playmaking ability in the middle of the pitch. Imagine the possibilities with Ricardo Clark holding down the defensive spot, Boniek and Brad creating havoc on the wings, and Barnes controlling the middle.
Last month, MLS Soccer looked at the possibility of Bruin scoring 20 goals this season. Well, if potential becomes reality in 2013, you could be looking at the best midfield in MLS - which certainly translates into more opportunities for hungry strikers like the Dancing Bear.
It's going to be a great 2013 season, and Barnes should be a big part of it.