Joao Plata and Corey Baird have scored key goals recently for Real Salt Lake as they've gone on a 5-1-2 run in their last eight league games, and a significant part of the recent success comes down to positive mental outlook.
"I got a little bit of confidence back, definitely the goals helped," Baird told reporters after training on Thursday. "The call in [to the U.S. national team] definitely helps as well, and I think the team is really hitting stride right now. We're looking to keep building off that."
Baird earned a recall to the USMNT for their September friendlies after missing the cut for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup, where the U.S. lost in the final. After winning MLS Rookie of the Year in 2018, Baird has struggled to offer the same consistency, as he often plays in a new spot on the field, scoring four goals and three assists in 25 league appearances. But after three goals in his last three appearances, he admits the adversity he's found this season was humbling as he's learning to adapt.
"Everything was kind of going well for me last year, called into January camp, get in the next camp, but then not making [the Gold Cup roster], and the way I started the season, not with many goals, it was kind of a reality check. It's not all just going to come to you, you have to keep working," Baird explained.
His coach, Freddy Juarez, agreed that Baird was showing a renewed confidence lately.
"He got those three goals in two games, got him some confidence ... He's gotten fitter, he's gotten sharper, today he scores a great goal in training where I think because of the confidence, all of the sudden he's willing to take [a chance], whereas a month back he was holding back. I think the confidence helps, now getting called into the national team, it almost gives you that reassurance that you are a good player."
For Plata, meanwhile, his first goal of the season came at the perfect time, to break a deadlock from the penalty spot in stoppage time for RSL in the Rocky Mountain Cup on Saturday. After looking to be on his way out of the club earlier this season before a proposed transfer fell through, RSL interim coach Freddy Juarez explained that Plata's value as a late-game sub is still vital.
"When they sign a contract, they sign a contract to be with RSL. They're all valued. And we all know in this league, everyone gets used in one way or another. Right now Plata has been huge for us when he's coming off the bench and creating a spark for us," Juarez said.
"We want everyone on board, everyone's part of the team, but you can't convince yourself that you're not, because you are. We're all part of it ... We've got to make tough decisions – every team in the world's got to make tough decisions, but we value every single player."
The next hurdle for the club, currently tied for second place in the Western Conference standings, is a tricky road trip to play the Portland Timbers on Saturday (10:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; DAZN in Canada). Both Juarez and Baird cited confidence as being significant for their prospects.
"We expect a tough game, we don't expect that we'll go in there and dominate a game. We know, and the message to the guys is you have to go and earn the right to [dominate]," Juarez said.
Baird agreed: "I think [the key is to] keep our confidence, keep playing the way we have and remember the way we lost a few of these games, make sure we're learning from that. And they've been a little on the back foot lately, and mainly capitalizing on that. If we can come out strong, really put them on the back foot, then it might get in their mind a little bit."