FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – In the 38th minute of Saturday evening’s match, Darrius Barnes was sitting on the bench watching his New England Revolution teammates battle the Houston Dynamo. That’s when captain and central defensive stalwart Jose Goncalves went down with a right quadriceps strain.
Three minutes later – just about enough time to pull on his jersey and receive a few words of encouragement from the coaching staff – Barnes was on the field in front of 14,259 fans with the likes of Boniek Garcia and Will Bruin bearing down on him. And he looked perfectly comfortable.
It’s become somewhat of a specialty for Barnes, who on more than one occasion in recent years has been forced into a game on short notice only to slide seamlessly into the Revolution’s backline.
“It’s pretty unreal,” said fellow defender A.J. Soares. “A lot of times, Darrius will sub on and he’s the best defender on both teams. That’s what I expect of him, really. It’s the level that he is … He’s one of the best one-v-one defenders I’ve ever seen.”
Head coach Jay Heaps praised Barnes’ professional attitude and his preparedness, both critical in situations like the one which developed on Saturday. Three times since last June – and already twice this season – Barnes has entered matches in the first half as the result of an injury or red card.
According to Barnes, staying mentally sharp – even while on the bench – is the key. Under most circumstances, attacking substitutions are planned, providing the players a chance to warm up and receive tactical instruction before entering the game. Defensive substitutions, however, are more often reactionary, leaving little time for players like Barnes to prepare physically and mentally.
“It’s definitely mental,” he said. “You don’t really get much time to warm up, especially as a defender. Usually it’s not a tactical switch when it’s a defender – it’s more of an injury – so you’re just kind of thrown into the mix. You just have to be mentally prepared to go in and do all the simple things right.”
Barnes certainly did the simple things right on Saturday, helping the Revs not only shut out the Dynamo en route to a 2-0 victory, but also hold the visitors without a shot on target for the entire match. On this occasion he was deployed at right back – Andrew Farrell shifted centrally upon Barnes’ introduction – but he’s just as capable on the left side or in the middle.
With the extent of Goncalves’ quad injury still unknown, Barnes may be called upon again when the Revs visit the Chicago Fire on Saturday afternoon, this time as a potential starter. Should that be the case, Barnes’ teammates trust that he’s more than capable of doing the job.
“When he’s on the field, I’m confident,” said Soares. “I love Darrius. He’s a great leader and he makes the team better when he plays.”