NASL's Etienne Barbara Off To A Torrid Start, 11 Goals In 8 Matches

Photo courtesy of NASL

Maltese import is lighting up Division 2, could a stint in MLS be far off?

Unless you've been following the goings on at the Division 2 level, there's a pretty good chance you've never heard of Etienne Barbara. With so many MLS teams struggling to score goals and likely looking for reinforcements, chances are you're going to start seeing his name pop up a lot more.

The forward has scored a league-leading 11 goals and is tied for the league lead with three assists through the Carolina Railhawks' first eight NASL matches. That puts him on pace to score about 38 goals and register 91 points. While there doesn't appear to be an official Division 2 record book, I think it's safe to say those totals would blow away any other totals.

To put those numbers in the proper context, Barbara has scored more goals than all but one other team. He has already broken the Railhawks' single-season scoring record (the team was founded in 2006), which he previously set last year when he scored eight goals in 21 matches. After just 29 matches played in a Railhawks uniform, he also owns the team's all-time scoring record (19 goals).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Railhawks are also winning. They sit atop the NASL table at 6-1-1 and have outscored their opponents 18-8 on the season. Barbara has been mostly paired with former RSL forward Pablo Campos, who has scored four goals this season.

"The biggest thing is he’s scoring goals," Railhawks coach Martin Rennie told the NASL website. "The second biggest thing is he’s working for the team. That’s different from how he was last season. He’s really working for the team and setting an example. And that means the whole team has to work. If the guy who’s scoring goals is working, that means everybody else follows. And I’m really pleased about that."

At 6-foot-1 and a listed 192 pounds, Barabara would at least seem to have the size to compete in MLS, although it's hard to provide much of a scouting report as videos are not exactly easy to come by. From my limited viewing, he looks like he has decent touch and an obvious nose for the goal. 

Obviously, the jump from Division 2 to MLS is never easy. For every Brian Ching (19 goals in 31 USL matches), there are plenty of others who just fail to perform at a higher level.

And to be fair, Barbara is already 28 and has never performed at this level, nor played against particularly tough opponents. He has some international experience, albeit with lightly regarded Malta where he's scored three goals in 30 appearances. Most of his professional career has been spent in Malta's professional league, which the UEFA coefficient ranks as the 50th best top-flight league in Europe. He did have a short stint with a fourth-division team in Germany, but he never scored in 30 matches with SC Verl.

Stil, it's hard not to be intrigued. MLS teams are averaging less than 1.2 goals per game, which Barbara is currently eclipsing all by himself. It seems reasonable that with the dearth of players capable of regularly finding the back of the net, someone like Barbara could be useful. MLS teams can't use him until the transfer window opens on July 15, but an enterprising team could sign him now. In any case, he's probably worth keeping an eye on.

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