Head Coach Steve Nicol and the rest of the New England Revolution technical staff anxiously sat around a table at the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, which was held in the soccer-crazed city of St. Louis Missouri. Armed with six picks in the first three rounds and having already chosen a forward, a defender, and three midfielders, it was time to make the 40th selection of that year’s draft.
Plenty of American talent was left on the board, but Nicol and co. ultimately settled on a a 6-foot-2 defender out of Duke University by the name of Darrius Barnes. The Raleigh, North Carolina native had started 70 games across his four year collegiate career, helped the Blue Devils post 32 shutouts in that time span, and was even named to the All-ACC Second Team his senior season.
Despite all of the accolades Barnes had racked up in what is arguably the nation’s most competitive collegiate soccer conference, 14 teams had already passed on him and it appeared as though his name may not be called whatsoever on that fateful afternoon. The Revs gave Barnes a chance, though, and little did they know at the time that a third rounder would steadily develop into a club staple.
"I was hoping and praying that I would be given the opportunity to go somewhere and prove myself because I had a good combine and career at Duke, so I was very confident that someone would take a chance on me," Barnes said. "I was lucky enough and fortunate that the Revs picked me and once you get picked its a fair ballgame. You have to go into camp and prove yourself and show that you belong."
To put it lightly, Barnes grasped his chance with aplomb. He went on to start every game for the Revs during his rookie season and was the only field player to play all 2,700 minutes that the 2009 regular season offered.
He has since made over 120 appearances for New England and defied the notion of swift player movement that tends to define the modern game of soccer. The 28-year-old has had chances to explore options elsewhere, but chosen every time to call Gillette Stadium home and carve out a deeper niche.
"If you were to have told me when I was drafted that I would still be with the Revs I would look at you funny, but I am very fortunate that I’ve been somewhere where I’ve been given a chance to play," Barnes said. "Every time I step on the field I like going out there and rewarding the club’s faith that they’ve had in me. To be able to have spent my entire career thus far…with the Revs is a blessing."
A defining reason for Barnes’ longevity and success - that is outside of his athletic ability - is his ability to play multiple positions and use that versatility as a strength rather than a weakness. He has played considerable minutes in three and four man back-lines and does not miss a beat in either.
Add in the fact that Barnes can play center back, left back, and right back and it results in a player who, despite stiff competition from other players, manages to find his way onto the field again and again.
"Being versatile is definitely an asset," Barnes said. "Coaches look at players who can play different positions and they tend to key in on those guys whether it’s for a starting role or a reserve role. As a professional you have to do what’s best for the team and fill a role and I’ve been happy to do that."
As Barnes has now etched out a solid career with the Revs, he is one of few veteran players currently on the roster. Although it’s ironic to refer to a man who is two years away from his thirtieth birthday as a veteran, that nomenclature speaks volumes to the type of person Barnes is.
His work rate, ability on the ball, and strength in the air stand out from a soccer perspective, but a great deal of why Barnes is a Rev through and through comes down to the positive characteristics he regularly exudes. He has endured the trials and tribulations of the club and now views it as his responsibility to instill that learned perspective on the team’s youth and newcomers.
"From being on the team for so long you adapt that Revs culture and know what this team and organization embodies," Barnes said. "You’re able to show that to some of the younger guys and assume more of a leadership role. It’s about stepping out on the field and representing these colors and this organization to the best of our ability and leaving it all on the field."
Barnes, who has developed close relationships with several fellow players and current head coach Jay Heaps, is eagerly taking to his role as a veteran player. A great deal of that excitement boils down to Barnes’ respect and commitment to the Revs organization as a whole.
One has to look no further than the Revs’ 2-1 away playoff victory over the New York Red Bulls last season to observes this. The Duke product put aside the emotions and celebratory mood of a historic victory to individually thank members of the traveling support on their buses and show appreciation for the role they played in both his success and the team’s.
"Some people get lost in the allure of a professional athlete where you go out there on the field and play, but these fans spend their money and time to watch us play," Barnes said. "[The New York example] was the least I could do considering that the fans spent four hours on a bus down and back to Boston. We appreciated their support and wanted to let them know we were riding back home with them."
As the Revs are now in the early stages of another march towards the ever-elusive Phillip Anschutz Trophy, Barnes is again at the center of things. You would have never anticipated such though back in 2009 when his potential MLS Cup career had a brief romance with uncertainty.
He is a pillar of the club and his industry, disciplined approach, and professionalism appear to be going nowhere soon. He has become a New Englander.
"It’s been fantastic as a Rev," Barnes said. "It’s been a roller-coaster ride so far for sure and there’s not one thing that I would change at all. This is a special place to me that holds a special place in my heart."