Beyond watching a player over the years in MLS, intensively scouting him as well as looking deep at metrics, both boxscore and analytical, there's a less quantifiable part of the equation: The impression he leaves on opposing defenders.
Before LAFC announced the acquisition of US men's national team forward Corey Baird from Real Salt Lake, club GM & co-president John Thorrington was sure to ask some defenders on his squad about Baird, who they were well familiar with from Western Conference clashes. What is he like to play against?
“What I like about Corey is there’s a relentlessness about his play that’s always caught my eye, that goes back to when he played in college," Thorrington told MLSsoccer.com on Monday.
The 2018 Rookie of the Year wasn't cheap, of course. LAFC parted with $500,000 General Allocation Money as well as a 2021 international roster spot and future considerations. Baird, who turns 25 later this month, had 15 goals and 13 assists over 81 appearances (61 starts) during his three seasons with RSL. He was a three-time national champion during his time at Stanford and has five caps with the USMNT.
“You’re always evaluating different options to strengthen a team and Corey was a name that came up," Thorrington said. "I wasn’t sure the feasibility of acquiring, given his importance to Salt Lake, but when the season ended the conversations started in earnest. ... We’re acquiring a player we’re really excited about, with his potential and qualities fitting with how we play, we’re excited.”
Baird is an explosive attacker, one who can play on either wing or through the center. His versatility, along with others in the attacking group like Diego Rossi, proves valuable for the club fitting under the salary cap.
“[His versatility is] a rare quality, so we certainly appreciate it," Thorrington said. "Because we’re in a salary cap league, we’re not Man City. We can’t go and get three players per position so we have to address that. We choose to address it in flexibility, players who can play in multiple roles. The ability to plug and play guys in different roles helps us when we can’t have a roster of 35 guys.”
With LAFC acquiring another winger, speculation will persist regarding the future of rising stars Rossi and Brian Rodriguez.
The Uruguayan international attackers are not short of European suitors. Rossi won the 2020 Golden Boot with 14 goals (and four assists) in 19 matches, while Rodriguez hasn't had the same statistical success in MLS, his talent is evident and he has been a regular starter with the senior Uruguay national team.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial troubles for many clubs around the globe, and in turn deflating the transfer market a bit, there have been exceptions to the trend. The Philadelphia Union have finalized two lucrative transfers of Brenden Aaronson (RB Salzburg) and Mark McKenzie (KRC Genk) for this transfer window while FC Dallas are negotiating a huge transfer for Bryan Reynolds that is expected to finalize over the next few weeks.
“There are active discussions, as everybody knows and would expect," Thorrington said of his squad in general, not specifically about Rossi or Rodriguez. "We have talented players who have sparked interest overseas. It’s a very complicated market because of COVID, however, there is still potential that we are selling a player this window.”
Thorrington added the moves by Philadelphia and other transfers abroad by MLS clubs in recent months have been an "affirmation" of the league and those deals are beneficial to all MLS clubs.
LAFC are looking for improvements in 2021 after a disjointed 2020. Carlos Vela missed much of the regular season with an injury while the club's playoff loss to the Seattle Sounders was clouded by a COVID outbreak that resulted in Rossi, Rodriguez and Diego Palacios being unavailable for selection. They returned for the resumption of the Concacaf Champions League, which ended in pain as LAFC lost in the final to Tigres UANL on the back of two late goals.
In their pursuit of improvement, Baird won't be the last addition in the near future.
“We have another announcement or two coming on the player acquisition side, which is very exciting for us," Thorrington teased.