Real Salt Lake Academy product Corey Baird took off past the Red Bulls back line. He controlled the through ball from Albert Rusnák and looked to his right.
Another couple of explosive touches and he could take a shot on goal in the last seconds of his MLS debut.
Instead Baird slowed, eased his way into the corner and held the ball until New York defender Tyler Adams jumped into him, knocking him off of it. For that, RSL received a free kick, and the game was over. RSL had managed to hold onto its 1-0 lead and collect its first win of the season.
“That’s experience beyond his years,” RSL coach Mike Petke said after the match. “How many guys would have went to goal, perhaps you either get it picked off or [goalkeeper Luis] Robles saves it and starts a counter-attack and they score?”
Baird replaced Sebastián Saucedo in the 66th minute, when Saucedo, also a homegrown player, left the match due to cramping in his left calf.
Baird and Saucedo joined two other RSL Academy products — Brooks Lennon and regular starter Justin Glad — on the field Saturday. The game also marked the first starts of the season for Lennon and Saucedo.
“We had a couple of injuries and the starting lineup wasn’t maybe the normal ‘starting lineup,’” starting center back Glad said, “but everyone stepped in and played well, and I’m proud to have come from the academy and proud to have these guys from the academy on the first team now, and it’s awesome to see that they all made it.”
Baird, a former Stanford Cardinal who signed with RSL this past offseason, came inches from scoring a goal in his debut.
In the 86th minute, Rusnák led Baird into space with a through ball, and Baird used his first touch to take a chip shot at Robles, who was well off his line. Robles leapt and batted it down with one hand.
“[Baird] brought a lot of energy, a lot of quality, calmness for his age,” Petke said. “… We talked in preseason about how many minutes and how many games we’d like to get him this year to get him experience because we see a lot of quality in him.”
Baird will likely continue to get time with RSL’s USL affiliate, the Real Monarchs, while also making some appearances for the first team.
On the other end of experience spectrum, Real Salt Lake contrasted its young lineup with a halftime celebration of defender Chris Wingert, who announced his retirement last month.
He entered free agency this offseason after his contract with RSL expired. He signed with Cosmos B for the upcoming National Premier Soccer League season, to play for his longtime friend Carlos Mendes as he plans his next step.
“It’s humbling,” the 10-season RSL veteran said of the retirement ceremony, “and it means so much to me. It’s hard to express. Just, thank you, as many times as I possibly can.”