Giles Barnes couldn't have imagined it all working out like this. The attacker is entering his fourth season with the Houston Dynamo, looking to take on a leadership role under new manager Owen Coyle, and preparing to play international soccer at the senior level for the first time.
Well, he sort of imagined it working out like this.
A teenage sensation with Derby County, Barnes helped the team win promotion to the Premier League after a standout season in 2006-07. The future was looking bright, and he knew it.
In a 2007 interview with FourFourTwo, before Derby had secured promotion thanks to his assist in the Championship playoff final, Barnes predicted that in five year's time he'd be "in the Premiership – although there might be a chance we’ll get there much sooner. I’d also like to be knocking on the door of the England set-up."
He made the Premier League, but injuries derailed his career, and in 2012 Barnes ended up in MLS. Now he's in no hurry to leave.
"I’ve kind of found a home in Houston," Barnes told Goal USA. "Obviously, when you hear of teams watching you from abroad it’s always nice to know because it’s a feeling that you’re doing well. But it’s important that you stay somewhere you feel loved and that brings out the best in you and that’s what I feel Houston has done over the past few years."
Barnes tries to give that love back by performing on the pitch. He led the Dynamo in goals with 11 in the 2014 season and his versatility allows him to suit up in various attacking spots where he might be needed, including as a lone striker, with a partner up top and in the center of midfield.
No matter where he's playing, Barnes says he wants to help the team to its ambitious goal of winning MLS Cup in 2015, a year after the club missed the playoffs. Part of that means settling into a leadership role in a locker room with World Cup veterans like DaMarcus Beasley, Boniek Garcia and Brad Davis.
"It’s something Owen’s encouraged me to do as well," Barnes says of the push. "He’s known of me for a long time. I’ve been vice captain at a few of the clubs I’ve been at as well and he knows that, so obviously having that experience for the past 10 years now and I’m still only 26."
That means speaking up on the pitch if he sees something he doesn't like and maintaining good relationships in the locker room. Luckily, Barnes says, the Dynamo have an atmosphere in which players are open to suggestion or guidance.
Barnes is also set to achieve the international call-up he'd envisioned some eight years ago, though he won't be wearing the Three Lions on his chest. Eligible for Jamaica thanks to his grandparents, the attacker is working with the JFF to become eligible for the Reggae Boyz.
"My papers are just going through literally as we speak," he said Monday afternoon. "There’s a friendly coming up in March, hopefully it’ll be done by then, but if not we’ll be looking to get me involved as soon as the papers do come into play. It’d be a great thing to play international football, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do."
There are a few other things he may get to achieve in another way he hadn't imagined in his youth. In the same FourFourTwo interview, Barnes cites Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard as inspiration. He'll be hoping to run over both during the 2015 MLS season.
"I came to this team to win trophies," Barnes said. "It’s a successful team, it’s one of the most decorated teams in MLS but I think it’s about time that we had something to show for that. It’s been a few years."