Corey Baird lamented last month that his second Major League Soccer season wasn’t going the way he liked. Although he felt he was positively affecting the action on the field, he knew it would be his statistical production that would define success for 2019.
On Saturday, on the road against Sporting Kansas City, he put together a performance that might make him feel better about his production. Baird scored two goals and lifted Real Salt Lake to a 2-1 victory over SKC.
Assistant coach Tyrone Marshall told KMYU after the game that he told Baird pregame he would score a goal. Marshall added that Baird has been out of rhythm the past few games, but that seems to have flipped.
“I’m glad to see Corey in good form now,” Marshall said. “I thought he was engaged tonight. He was active, getting behind, runs, checking back. So that’s the Corey that we saw last year and that’s the Corey we want going forward. That’s what we got tonight.”
Baird’s first goal of the evening leveled the game at one goal apiece. After Baird earned a free kick from just outside the 18-yard box in the 37th minute, Albert Rusnák’s shot over the SKC wall hit the post. but Baird was there for the finish after spinning free from defenders.
Baird’s game-winner came much later and in the run of play. With RSL in semi-transition, Jefferson Saravino half-floated a pass to a wide-open Baird. The 2018 rookie of the year settled it with his chest and let the ball bounce a couple of times before striking it with his left foot. Baird played the shot at the far past, well away from SKC keeper Tim Melia.
An SKC set piece buried RSL in the 31st minute. Johnny Russell set up just outside the 18-yard box for the free kick and elected not strike over the Salt Lake wall, but around it. He curled the ball just enough to beat goalkeeper Nick Rimando for a 1-0 lead.
But for the second straight week, Salt Lake turned an early deficit into three points. Real did it against New York City FC in a 3-1 victory last Saturday.
“That’s the mentality of this group,” Damir Kreilach told KMYU after the game. "It shows that every one of us is on the same page and this is how you have to work and how you have to learn and how you have to play to the end.”
The game was contentious throughout. In the waning moments of stoppage time in the first half, both teams had clear-cut opportunities to take the lead heading into halftime but came up empty. Felipe Gutiérrez’s penalty kick, which was earned because Donny Toia pulled on the jersey of a Kansas City player in the box, hit the left post.
“Sometimes the football god is like that,” Marshall said. “It probably shouldn’t have gone that way.”
On the counter, Rusnák received a pass that left him open with just Melia in front of him. But instead of testing Melia, Rusnák passed across the field to Kreilach, who lost the ball.
SKC outshot RSL 12-11, but Salt Lake ended the game with six shots on goal to Kansas City’s three. Real showed improved defensive yet again, amassing a whopping 34 clearances to SKC’s nine.
RSL will be on short rest when it faces the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium. With 10 games left in the regular season, Real kept the sixth-place spot in the Western Conference Standings.
After missing five weeks with a quad injury, Sam Johnson returned the lineup in the 64th minute. … RSL won its first road game since its 3-2 win over the Colorado Rapids on May 11. … SKC finished with 10 men after Dániel Sallói picked up a red card in the 84th minute.