HERRIMAN — Corey Baird tried to keep a straight face, but he simply couldn’t.
In the midst of a giving a great answer to reporters about what it’s going to take for Real Salt Lake to get a result in Kansas City this weekend, a few of his teammates predictability starting heckling Baird about being named the MLS Rookie of the Year on Monday.
“The bonus is big. Big bonus,” yelled Sebastian Saucedo as he walked off the training field and past Baird on Tuesday.
Mid-sentence, as he was talking about what a dangerous team Sporting Kansas City is, Baird immediately started laughing at Saucedo's remarks.
The camaraderie he felt from his teammates on Tuesday is the same type of camaraderie that’s allowed him to thrive in his first season in MLS as a homegrown player for Real Salt Lake alongside many of his former RSL Academy teammates.
Baird received 43.88 percent of the vote to become the first Real Salt Lake player to win the award.
“I was just happy. It’s nice to get that recognition after a year of hard work, more than a year, every year throughout my entire career leading up to that. It’s awesome,” said Baird. “I kind of want to forget about that now and get back to training.”
Baird played a big role in RSL’s 3-2 knockout round playoff win at LAFC last Thursday, and then he subbed on for the final 13 minutes in Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Kansas City in Leg 1 of the Western Conference semifinal.
Counting regular season and playoffs, Baird has appeared in 33 of 36 games this season for Real Salt Lake, a massive accomplishment for a player who had limited expectations coming into the season. He finished the regular season with eight goals and five assists.
Baird said that Mike Petke’s belief in him is a big reason for his success.
“I’ve said it before, beginning of the season I didn’t know what to expect. Even when I got a couple games under my belt wasn’t really sure if it was because of injuries or I truly belonged, and just the faith he put in me, continuing to play me, starting me, getting me off the bench, it was huge for my confidence and just showing me I belong here,” said Baird.
Past MLS Rookie of Year winners include Clint Dempsey, Michael Parkhurst and Omar Gonzalez, and more recently Jordan Morris of the Seattle Sounders.
Baird said any comparisons are way too early. “I’ve got a long way ahead of me.”Comment on this story
Whether it’s looking ahead to Sunday’s playoff game at Kansas City or to future years in MLS, Baird said he needs to continue improving on all the little things that have gotten him this far.
“There’s not one specific thing where I want to work on that, but it’s just all around creating a better game for myself, understanding different movements better, learning what I need to do at the top level, watching film on other guys, first touch, finishing, keeping my fitness up, it’s all the little things that have gotten me these opportunities,” said Baird.