Like the rest of soccer, wingers are an ever evolving position. Historically if you had a player with a lot of speed, you stuck them out on the wing. You’d use their speed to stretch and get in behind defenses. Then some Backstreet Boy look-a-like named David Beckham showed up and showed the world that you don’t necessarily have to be the fastest player to be play out wide - so as long as you’ve got some other tricks up your sleeve. It then became the thing to have speed and the ability to whip in a decent cross that became the norm for wingers. To do that, right footed players played on the right and left footed players played on the left - this gave the winger enough space to shield off the defender and the right angle to get a cross in.
Then sometime in the last decade, someone (looking at you Arjen Robben) decided to flip the position on its head and said, “Screw that. I’m left footed and I want to play on the right. Watch me.” Robben essentially became a one trick pony, but world class at that, and it painfully obvious that he would eventually cut into the middle of the field and onto his preferred left foot to either find the final pass or score a magnificent golazo.
In the last five seasons with FC Dallas, we’ve seen Michael Barrios under go a similar transformation as a winger as he’s evolved from speedster to speedster with goal scoring prowess, to speed demon with a cross and now speedster as a chance creator.
Through two games in 2020, Barrios is the team’s leading key passer with eight. (There’s a three way tie for second place between Zdenek Ondrasek, Reto Ziegler and Ryan Hollingshead.)
Against Philadelphia in the season opener, Barrios spent much of the evening switching between two wings - using his speed and guile to unbalance the Union defense for an FC Dallas 2-0 victory.
When needed, as it was against a strong Union side, Barrios was a force defensively on the wing - a trait he’s not commonly known for, but is always a willing participant to help the team’s overall needs.
After a strong performance to open the 2020 campaign, Barrios exploded against the Montreal Impact - doing his thing by connecting with Ondrasek on multiple occasions to create scoring chances. Barrios ended the afternoon with 5 key passes to his name and the Impact had no idea how to contain him.
But Barrios wasn’t always like this as I mentioned earlier. When he first arrived to Dallas back in 2015, his main contribution was to get behind the defense and score goals. In fact, during his first two season, Barrios scored 16 goals and notched 2 assists. That of course, was largely in part to the fact that Dallas had one of the best 10s in MLS history (yes, I said it) in Mauro Diaz. Dallas did not need Barrios to do anything too fancy, just run his heart out and finish the play off.
But once Diaz got injured and eventually departed, Barrios saw his role with the team change and he was called upon to add more to his game if he were to help lead the offense now. In the three seasons since (not counting 2020), Barrios has tallied 14 goals and an astounding 35 assists - a stark contrast to his first two seasons playing for the Hoops. (Can we resurrect that nickname or no?)
But Barrios’ evolution hasn’t come without growing pains, as he went the first 20 games of 2018 without scoring before erupting for a hat trick on the road against Sporting Kansas City. Despite that goalless stretch, Barrios was still a threat and a consistent force for the Dallas attack. In fact, his consistency has led him to average over 2,400 minutes during his time in Frisco - a feat that only club legend Matt Hedges bests Barrios in during that same stretch of time.
Barrios hasn’t gotten on the scoresheet yet in 2020, but his evolution and all around play has made him even more lethal and important to this team than ever before. Let’s just hope we can beat this COVID-19 crisis soon and get him on the field again.