SANDY — When Corey Baird signed a homegrown contract with Real Salt Lake this past offseason after completing four successful years at Stanford, nobody knew exactly what type of contribution he’d make in 2018.
With a strong group of returning forwards from the previous season, not to mention the big signing of Spanish striker Alfredo Ortuno, it seemed Baird’s best path for playing time would come via the Real Monarchs.
Sure enough, Baird found himself in the starting lineup in the Real Monarchs season-opener back on March 24, and he even scored a goal in his professional debut. Six days later the rookie made his MLS debut at Toronto, coming on as a sub and scoring in the 82nd minute.
The opportunity was the result of injuries, but Baird made the most of it with a goal in his MLS debut. He hasn’t looked back since. Baird has started five of the last six matches for Real Salt Lake, scoring in the past two.
That includes the opening goal for Real Salt Lake in Saturday’s 3-2 win over D.C. United.
“It’s been an amazing run so far, I can’t say this is what I expected. I didn’t really know what to expect coming into the team, I just wanted to work hard. Given my opportunities right now, I just want to make the most of it and work as hard as possible,” said Baird.
He’s started the past three games at striker in place of injured Luis Silva, and said he’s getting more comfortable every game.
“I’ve been learning my role, what’s expected of me. It’s been nice to get a good run of games because then I can develop some chemistry. The goal today was the same ball Joao (Plata) played into me against Orlando,” said Baird.
His early success shouldn’t really come as a surprise. After playing one year with the Real Salt Lake Academy in Arizona in 2013, Baird moved onto Stanford, where he was a four-year starter. He scored 16 goals and added 28 assists during those four season, and was instrumental in leading the Cardinal to three straight NCAA titles.
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That winning mentality has helped his game translate quickly to the professional level.
Baird credits David Horst with really encouraging and helping him throughout the preseason, and now that he’s getting minutes with the first team, he said Kyle Beckerman is really offering him words of encouragement.
Beckerman said teams must defend RSL differently when Baird is on the field.
“He’s not only scoring goals, he’s opening the defense because they have to respect his runs in behind. Once they start respecting his runs in behind, they drop off a little bit and then we can start to play underneath,” said Beckerman.
In Baird’s three starts at forward, Real Salt Lake has played its most confident soccer going forward. He’s made the most of his opportunity, and more starts are sure to come as a result.