About a week before opening day, Orlando City announced the acquisition of Giles Barnes from the Vancouver Whitecaps in exchange for Brek Shea. A lot was made of the fact that Orlando was trading a left midfielder for a striker. It was even more surprising when, a few days later, Shea took up the forward position while playing for the Whitecaps in the CONCACAF Champions League. Now I can't speak for everyone, but when I saw that I started to think if Barnes was considered a worse forward than Shea by the Whitecaps then how could he help our team better than Shea? For that, and other reasons — just like many others — I started to wonder how he could fit into Jason Kreis’ system better than Shea.
Now that we are five games and five Barnes appearances into the season it is no use guessing how he would fit into our system. We have all the evidence in front of us and I think it’s pretty clear what Kreis sees in Barnes. Basically, Barnes is a versatile player than can fit into multiple attacking roles and doesn't have one set position. While this is a very simple concept, I can’t overstate the importance of having a player like that on the team.
The reason Orlando City needed a versatile attacker is because it lacked depth in the attacking positions. So far this season, the starting 11 has looked absolutely phenomenal. It has also been pretty evident that the Lions have lots of depth at the center mid spot. When people see lots of substitutions, they automatically think a team has depth. A lot of the substitutions though, have been center midfielders. When Kaká went down, everyone went into panic mode. Who was there to save the day? Why, unsung hero Giles Barnes, of course. He immediately stepped in and looked unfazed by the challenge. His first action was to whip in a cross which Cyle Larin headed in for the only goal of the game. Then he proceeded to quietly put on a tenacious defensive display.
As mentioned before, Barnes has featured in every game so far, even starting three of the five. Perhaps if Orlando City hadn't traded for him, Kreis could have adjusted the lineup a different way and still had his team perform well. But that doesn't defeat the fact that his ability to play in every attacking position is a great asset. I actually believe he still has a lot more to show in terms of both performance and value.
In terms of performance, while he has worked hard, we haven't really seen him create too many chances, though he has run at defenders numerous times. In terms of value, I think it will truly be fulfilled if either Rivas or Larin goes down. Had he not joined Orlando and Larin got injured, we would have had to settle for Hadji Barry up top. Now Barry is a talented young player, but his experience does not come close to Barnes. Barry has never even scored a goal in the league, while Barnes has played in the U.S. and England, scoring 33 goals in 128 appearances in MLS.
Jason Kreis has also complimented Barnes on his performances thus far.
“Another guy that I think has really bought into what we’re trying to do here,” Kreis said after Saturday’s match. “Smile on his face every day, brings a fantastic attitude to the group and a willingness to work. We saw that tonight. Really putting in an effort for us defensively and when he gets on the ball it’s important that he does what he does, which is run the ball out of space occasionally because we don’t have a lot of guys that can do that. When he runs the ball vertically towards defenders they have to make choices.”
From these comments, we can clearly see how much Kreis values Barnes as a player. Personally, I think he hasn't been getting enough attention with all the praise going to Larin, Jonathan Spector, and Joe Bendik (understandably). To be honest I could go on and on about the value of having a great backup, but at the end of the day it really comes down to one thing: Giles Barnes is a good player that can help out in many different ways, whether it's coming off the bench or starting. And then comes the question: would you rather have a versatile understudy or an understudy skilled at only one thing?