Giles Barnes’ tenures with the Houston Dynamo and Vancouver Whitecaps did not end on positive notes. Questions surfaced about his work ethic, his consistency, and whether he still had enough left in the tank to perform at a high level in Major League Soccer.
But if you had only seen the two matches Barnes has played for Orlando City, you would probably be shocked that anyone could raise such questions about the Jamaican international. Barnes has been an engine down the left side of the pitch since entering unexpectedly for Kaká just minutes into the opener against New York City FC. He has put in brilliant shifts on both ends of the field, teeing up assists for Cyle Larin, nutmegging an unsuspecting Keegan Rosenberry, and causing chaos for opponents.
But there’s always been high expectations for Barnes on offense. He’s expected to beat defenders in one-on-one situations, use his skillful flicks and back-heels to open up space for his teammates, and provide a creative spark in general to unlock defenses. But for the short time he’s been in Orlando, his defense has been just as impressive.
After two matches, Giles is tied for the team lead in tackles with seven, equaled only by Will Johnson. He’s also filled the stat sheet with an interception, three clearances, and eight recoveries to his defensive tallies. He’s attributed more statistically to the defense than defensive midfielder Servando Carrasco (two tackles, three interceptions, nine recoveries on the year). It’s not exactly what you would expect from a player who had been labeled as lazy in his own half, especially when you witness the effort he’s giving.
But it’s also a trend you may have noticed with all of Orlando’s attackers; Matias Perez Garcia is often going to ground to beat an opponent to the ball, Barnes has shown a willingness to sacrifice his body to gain an advantage, and even Larin attempted a slide tackle late in the win over the Philadelphia Union. The individual efforts are laudable, but it’s especially impressive when, according to Lions Head Coach Jason Kreis, Giles is doing this all out of position.
“I think naturally he’s a bit more of a second striker and to put him in that wide position there is a real defensive role for him,” Kreis said of Barnes after the victory over NYCFC. “And so we’ll have to continue to work with him on that.”
For Barnes to come on with short notice and perform as he did defensively — leading the team in tackles that match with five — there may not be too much left to work on. If Barnes can improve from where he is now, it will be a tough decision for Kreis when Kaká finally returns from injury; will he perform a straight swap for the Jamaican who is contributing so well on both ends, or will he have to shuffle the team to fit his best pieces?
Barnes’ unique blend of athleticism and skill has earned him a place in the lineup — and potentially the Designated Player tag he’s been given after Bryan Róchez’s exit — and it will be interesting to see how Kreis uses him if the side ever gets to full strength with Carlos Rivas and Larin also firing on all cylinders. Whatever Kreis decides to do when the time comes, Barnes has proven that he’s willing to go the extra step and give maximum effort for the club on both ends of the field.