SANDY — Corey Baird is nowhere near the top of the MLS scoring leaders. In fact, the Real Salt Lake rookie’s five goals have him positioned in a tie for 32nd placing on the scoring leaders list.
It might seem like modest production, but it’s actually far from it. Baird’s five goals and work rate up top have helped Real Salt Lake survive, and in many ways thrive, despite the big-miss offseason signing of Alfredo Ortuno.
Baird scored his fifth goal of the season in Wednesday’s 4-2 win over Sporting Kansas City. He’s part of the big youth movement for Real Salt Lake, and continues to show no sign of intimidation whenever he steps on the field,
“Being a young guy on the team, everyone is hungry, you’re not an established pro yet, you still have a lot to prove and you got a lot of time to improve and just to prove yourself to the other guys on the team. I think every game we’re just going out there, it might be inconsistent at times, but I think everyone is hungry and wanting to give it their all and impress the coach,” said Baird.
This Saturday, Baird will get another opportunity to not only impress his coach but also put his stamp on the MLS Rookie of the Year race when RSL hosts Western Conference leader FC Dallas (8 p.m., KMYU).
Realistically Baird has been impressing coach Mike Petke all season.
“He’s done well. He’s a young kid, he has to gain experience. I think that a more-experienced Corey in three or four years will already have 12 or 13 goals to be honest with you. He has put himself in good positions, he has a high work rate, he is a very unselfish player doing a lot for the team as far as his running, his working, his pressing. He forces defenses to be honest because of the space behind. With more experience Corey will become more of a finished product,” said Petke.
That’s high praise for someone who was playing college soccer at Stanford last fall.
Already, Baird is on pace to become Real Salt Lake’s first double-digit goal scorer since 2014, when Joao Plata scored 13. Baird has played 1,003 minutes and is scoring 0.45 goals every 90 minutes. Considering his current trajectory of minutes played, he should easily eclipse 1,000 minutes in the second half of the season as he aims for double-digit goals.
Over the past nine years there’s been a direct correlation at Real Salt Lake between a double-digit goal scorer and success.
During the club’s championship season in 2009, Robbie Findley scored 12 goals. Then from 2010 to 2014 — the golden age of Real Salt Lake soccer — Alvaro Saborio scored in double digits four times while Plata did the same in 2014. RSL finished second or third in the Western Conference all five of those seasons.
Baird could be contributing to another one of those top three finishes if he continues to produce.
Wednesday’s win over Kansas City improved RSL’s home unbeaten streak to eight games (7-0-1) and vaulted the team into a fourth-place tie with Portland with 26 points.Comment on this story
FC Dallas, meanwhile, is comfortably ahead with 35 points in the standings as it’s won six of its last seven games. It picked up a huge 3-2 win at home on Wednesday over East-leading Atlanta.
Dallas is one of the best high-pressure teams in MLS, and definitely one of the stingiest defensively as it leads the West with 19 goals allowed.
Creating opportunities against Dallas will be difficult on Saturday, and Baird and company will need to be clinical with their finishing to try and pick up the full three points.