HERRIMAN, Utah — Real Salt Lake forward and 2018 AT&T MLS Rookie of the Year winner Corey Baird doesn’t feel like he necessarily belongs on the list of all the previous Rookie of the Year winners, at least not yet.
“I wouldn’t want to put myself in the same boat as those guys, they have had unbelievable careers. They had the careers they have had because they didn’t just stop working after winning this award,” Baird said. “It’s one year’s hard work. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, still a long road ahead of me.”
That feeling isn’t anything new for him.
Baird played in the RSL Academy when it was in Casa Grande, Ariz., before playing all four years at Stanford and winning three national titles. Even with that experience, he wasn’t sure he actually belonged in MLS.
“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t know what to expect. Even when I got a couple games under my belt I wasn’t really sure if it was because of injuries or because I truly belonged,” Baird said. “The faith [head coach Mike Petke] put in me, in continuing to play me, starting me, getting me off the bench was huge for my confidence and showed me that he thinks I belong here and giving myself the belief that I do belong here.”
He finished with eight goals and five assists and received 43 percent of the vote, more than double that of the second place vote-getter, Orlando City's Chris Mueller. Apparently when he’s comfortable he can do a lot on the pitch. That’s probably partly why he chose the RSL Academy in the first place, given his friendship with current RSL defender Justen Glad.
“I roomed with Justen a little before I moved to the Academy,” Baird said. “He’s the big reason I went over, a friendly face. I knew someone already and wanted to get into an MLS environment. The decision paid off.”
Transitioning from the Academy to Stanford and then to RSL wasn’t as rough as it could have been, given the group of his former Academy teammates already on the roster and former Academy coach Freddy Juarez's role as an assistant in Salt Lake.
Now Baird has the rest of his career in front of him to feel comfortable getting mentioned with the likes of Clint Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra. His next focus?
"All-around creating a better game for myself," he said. "Understanding different movements better. Learning what I need to do at the top level. Watching films of other guys, first touch, finishing, keeping my fitness up.
“It’s all the little things that have gotten me these opportunities. I just have to make sure I’m not forgetting those things.”