This isn’t to say Barnes wasn’t rushed in to getting acclimated, however.
“Everything happened pretty quickly,” said Barnes after training on Wednesday afternoon. “My contract was up in New England after eight years, so I was a free agent looking for a new challenge. I had the opportunity to go out to Seattle and train, unfortunately I got a little tweak in preseason.”
“Later, New York contacted my agent and said they’d love to have me here. I thought it was a good opportunity for me to come here and play towards the latter part of my career. I’m happy to be here, and the first few weeks have been great. Just trying to get acclimated to the New York lifestyle.”
Barnes, a native of North Carolina, interestingly got his start playing for various rebrands of the developmental team that today is North Carolina FC U-23, now of the PDL. He was drafted in the third round (40th overall) of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft by the Revolution, and went on to become the second rookie in league history to play every minute of every game in his rookie campaign, the first of eight he would spend in New England. Barnes was on the bench for last year’s Open Cup match against the Cosmos, a game Barnes says he kept in mind during the offseason.
“Having the opportunity come up here and play them when I was with the Revolution…they came out and punched us in the mouth last year, and we needed to put everything we had into that game to come away with the victory. I thought the Cosmos outplayed us last year, and Open Cup games are always gritty. I was definitely impressed with the way they played and the way Gio had them playing. That game was something I considered when I was making the move to come play for the Cosmos.”
Barnes’ move to New York was only announced on the eve of the club’s home opener, and yet the Duke alum made the starting XI against Puerto Rico. Only with the squad “about a day” according to Jimmy Maurer, Barnes put in a great performance in a 0-0 draw against Puerto Rico. Barnes also featured at right back in the Cosmos inaugural 2017 victory in Miami, playing out of position. Barnes says despite most of his career being spent at right center back, he has enough experience to “benefit the team at any spot” across the back line.
This exploration of unfamiliar waters against Miami seems to serve as a motif for the beginning of his career in New York. Most of Barnes’ career has been spent in familiarity: in eight years with New England, six were been spent under head coach Jay Heaps. This year brings not only a new team and new league, but a new head coach in Gio Savarese. While Barnes has already begun working with the Venezuelan on the side after training to build fitness, he admits the change of pace is fresh.“Gio seems like a great guy. I’ve only known him for a few weeks, but he’s very intense and fiery while still being a player’s coach as well. He’s always upbeat and tries to keep the core group of guys motivated, I think he’s a great motivator. You can tell he has a great passion and knowledge for the game.”
“I’ve had some great coaches over the years, from Stevie Nickle my first year to Jay Heaps the past couple of years as well. They were great coaches to play for, but it’s always nice to have a little bit of a change, hear a different perspective and see a different style of play. As a player, you sometimes get… for lack of a better word, bored, and begin to tune things out. When you get a fresh start, with fresh ideas, it’s re-energizing.”
In his two games under Savarese, Barnes has already been faced with defending some of the most dangerous names in the NASL, lining up against the likes of Hector “Pito” Ramos, Stefano Pinho, Kwadwo Poku, and Jamie Chavez. While he admits he didn’t bring much knowledge of the NASL to New York, the quality in the league is impressive.
“The level of play has definitely impressed me, it’s been quite high. Obviously coming from MLS, I’ve only played a few NASL teams in Open Cup. I didn’t know much about the league or the players coming in, but the level of competition is high. The quality is high. There’s some great players out on the pitch, and you have to bring an A+ mindset and quality game in and game out. A lot of guys in the NASL have MLS experience, so the level is going to be high. It’s just a matter of having that competitive mindset game in and game out.”
New team, new league, new head coach. It’s all a part of the adjustment period for Barnes, one that he seems to be taking in stride.“I’m fitting in well. Came in late, so it took some getting used to. As with any new team, you need to get accustomed to the players. A lot of familiarity is coming along and the chemistry is starting to click a little bit more. The first couple of games were great, we got some clean sheets, always a positive. We can always build and improve on things, but two clean sheets in the first three games is not bad, we’ll certainly take that. There’s definitely room to improve, we’re trying to come out here and push ourselves each and every day to get better.”