HERRIMAN — Corey Baird has spent a good chunk of 2019 training and playing with a team not named Real Salt Lake, but you won’t hear a word of complaint from his Major League Soccer club.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Though the 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year spent January with U.S. national team and was away from RSL for another week in March, his coach wouldn’t have it any other way.
“He comes back with confidence, being able to play at a high level with a group of very talented players,” RSL coach Mike Petke said. “Every player on that roster for the U.S. team and that camp is at the top of their game. It brings out the best in you.”
That said, Petke is definitely happy to have his talented young striker back. RSL will need all the firepower it can muster when it travels to Seattle for a tough matchup Saturday night. Not only is Real (1-3-1) going up against the red-hot Sounders (3-0-1), but the Utah team only has scored five goals in five matches.
The 23-year-old Baird has one assist and has yet to score a goal on two shots this year in three matches. He tallied eight goals with five assists in 31 appearances last season. With a full season of MLS and two national team experiences under his belt, Baird is in an even better position to contribute to an RSL team in need of an offensive boost.
“Whenever you come back from the national team, your confidence is high, which is always good. It raises the level of everyone in the group,” RSL defender Justen Glad said. “Corey’s done that every time he’s come back. He’s raised the level of everyone. It’s fun to see him back, and we’re going to need him.”
Baird said his most recent call-up was different than the first one with the main men's national team. The January training included two-a-days and detail-oriented work, with players learning exactly how national coach Gregg Berhalter likes to run his program. The March camp included a quick review and integration for newcomers, so they didn't cover as much ground.
Baird saw action in three international friendlies with the U.S. squad, including two starts.
His biggest takeaway?
“The biggest thing I think is just getting around those guys, seeing what they’re doing every day, seeing the level that they hold themselves to and the level I aspire to be,” Baird said. “I think I’m there. But I still think there’s a lot of learning I can do being with those guys every day. I think you just pick up a lot of little things.”
There are crossovers between Team USA and RSL. He’s learned how to better play off of teammates in an attacking movement.
“It forces everything from physical to mentality (to improve),” Petke said. “And I’ve thought Corey has responded and come back very well from the camps he’s been in.”
Petke has fond memories of being called up as a player back in the day.
“I don’t think there’s anything quite like your first call-up at all. I was fortunate to have a number of call-ups and I remember the first one,” Petke said. “I know Corey was over the moon about it, and I think from there it becomes motivation to stay.”
Petke received feedback from the national coach about Baird, and RSL’s leader was happy to hear that the things Berhalter liked and wanted the forward to work on was similar to what the Real coaching staff’s assessment.
“Selfishly, that made me feel good because I’m thinking like Gregg,” Petke said, laughing. “Greg likes Corey. He likes the key attributes that he brings. Does that mean that he’s going to play in the World Cup? Does that mean he’s going to play in the Gold Cup? That’s for Gregg and his staff to figure out, but I think Corey has deserved the opportunities. …Comment on this story
“From my understanding, he’s done enough in the second camp that he’s going to be in the big picture.”
Baird said he feels a lot more confident this year with his previous national experience. The former Stanford star and Real Salt Lake Academy product has participated with the USA U-17, U-18, U-20 and U-23 national teams.
“Obviously, it’s great for my confidence, like, ‘Hey, I belong here,’” he said. “But at the same time, you’ve got to remember what got you there. Just those little things you’re doing that made you successful, you’ve got to keep doing that.”