Matt Barnes: “Our grassroots program is fundamental to our future success and it’s been growing rapidly.” (Photo by Russ Pinkerton)

Former Midland-Odessa Sockers FC head coach Matt Barnes has been named head coach of the Turks and Caicos Islands men’s national team.

The former National Premier Soccer League coach will be at the helm for four qualifying games in the concacaf Nations League.

Turks and Caicos Islands Football Association general secretary Oliver Smith liked what Barnes brought to the program.

“We wanted to expand our search outside of the Caribbean,” Smith said. “We liked that even though it was going to be a lot of work and a long-term project, Matt embraced the reality of it. He had the coaching pedigree and the background.”

Barnes’ pedigree has included the men’s programs at St. Mary’s University, San Francisco State University, Lubbock Christian University and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. His first collegiate job was a big one as an assistant at California State University Bakersfield as the team captured the Division II national championship in 1997.

He also has coached at the youth and high school levels. He was the director of coaching at Peninsula Youth Soccer Club and LA Galaxy Bakersfield in addition to serving as head coach at Centennial High School and/Stockdale High School.

Barnes, who starred for two national champinships at Judson University has earned USSF “C” and NSCAA Premier licenses. He also is working on a UEFA “B” license. In 2017 he was part of the World Football Academy Mentorship Program with Raymond Verheijen in Amsterdam, Holland.

Barnes does not take his latest challenge for granted.

“I’m not sure it has completely sunk in yet,” he said. “I’m just entering month two on the job.”

Last weekend FIFA sent Barnes to London with the other 200-plus national team coaches for a three-day symposium that focused on the technical studies from the FIFA technical study group put together from the World Cup.

“When I was sitting in the conference room with Gareth Southgate, Didier Deschamps, and some of the best footballing minds in the world, I started to realize just how important this role is for me in the big scope of things,” he said. “Even though we were celebrating the champions of the World Cup, FIFA has a great commitment and passion for growing the game globally. The small developing countries like Turks and Caicos Islands play a very important role in this vision. This is the best part of it for me; helping develop the grassroots platform and growing our player pool as we gain much needed experience on the pitch. The experience so far has been an amazing one, and I’m very proud to be at the helm of a national team as we strive daily to represent the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

The Caribbean island, which has a population of about 30,000, has struggled in World Cup qualifying.

It’s not an easy assignment, but Barnes has already proven himself at every level.

“Football is still developing here and as with most federations, we have some unique challenges,” Barnes said. “Our grassroots program is fundamental to our future success and it’s been growing rapidly. The sport is popular, but still battles with cricket, rugby, and track and field. Having said that, the federation here is outstanding. The president has a clear vision for youth development, and has made a commitment to the community. This is what it will take to grow the sport in the islands, and I’m confident that her vision will come to fruition.”

Barnes has set some goals for the program.

“I was very fortunate that the federation gave me this opportunity and liked my preparation model coming into the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League,” he said. “Our short-term goals generally focus on building the foundation for the future and next years’ Nations League matches which will be in a promotion/relegation format. We are extremely realistic about where we are at right now and what targets we should be aiming for.”

Turks and Caicos lost a recent match in Cuba, which has a population of 12 million people.

Barnes said that nation has “a very healthy and active national team program; we don’t have the luxury of a player pool that large and we haven’t had opportunities to play much in the last several years so we look at matches like that in a very different way. Concacaf is now helping us with opportunities to play and grow. With the Nations League as a platform for this, we need to focus on operating the right way, for the right reasons and at the right time.”

Coaching in postseason games in the NPSL allowed Barnes to compete on a big stage in front of big crowds.

“My time in the NPSL was invaluable in so many ways,” he said. “Several things still really resonate with me. We played in front of some large crowds on our run to the title game two summers ago, 10,000 or more people watched us play live over the course of our last three matches. You can’t recreate those moments as a coach, and it brings new challenges to a staff and to a team itself. Playing in Detroit in front of a massive and very rambunctious crowd was the highlight of my summer. Even though the fans were crazy, I loved it – I kept thinking that night to myself that soccer has come so far in this country, I never would have imagined playing or coaching in front of this sized crowd growing up in the U.S.. I say all this because in my debut last month away to Cuba, I wasn’t affected by the large crowd and big stadium – my experience in the NPSL helped me manage that detail.”