RSL’s Corey Baird wants to prove he can be a starter

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake forward Corey Baird (27) races down field ahead of Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza (17) in MLS soccer action between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City at Rio Tinto Stadium, Wednesday, July 4, 2018.

Herriman • Corey Baird hadn’t scored a goal in over a month. Before that, he hadn’t scored since early July.

But when the homegrown Real Salt Lake rookie forward scored RSL’s lone goal off Jefferson Savarino’s pass in the ninth minute of Sunday’s draw against Sporting Kansas City, he showed how capable he can be on the attack.

“Just good to be able to get back out there and prove to [coach] Mike [Petke] once again that I’m capable of being a starter, and when I come in I can make an impact,” Baird said Tuesday after training.

Baird started his 19th game of the season on Sunday in place of Albert Rusnák, who came off the bench because he missed the team’s flight into Kansas City and did not participate in training. Baird’s goal was his seventh of the season, putting him fourth among the team’s top scorers.

Baird almost had his eighth goal when he attempted to chip the ball over Sporting KC’s keeper in the 73rd minute. But it clanged off the top post.

Midfielder Kyle Beckerman said he has been speaking to Baird recently, and the rookie has been “trying to soak up everything.” Beckerman hinted that he was somewhat surprised at Baird’s late attempt to trick KC’s keeper.

“When you talk with Corey, you don’t think that he has that type of game where he’s chipping goalkeepers and doing the things that he does,” Beckerman said. “He’s got that cheekiness to him.”

It’s all mental

With just three games to go, and RSL in the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the players have started to put on their postseason faces.

“I think, basically now, we’re in the playoffs,” Baird said. “Every game matters so much. Every game you … have to be getting points, can’t be letting teams catch us. We’re going out there as if we are already in playoffs. It just starts a little earlier for us.”

Baird, who was not on last season’s team that missed the postseason by only one point, said the team has a chip on its shoulder this season, not wanting history to repeat itself. Beckerman said the team feeling the playoff intensity before the season actually ends could bode well when the playoffs get going.

“It’s going to be really good practice for us and hopefully we rise to the occasion and we get in the playoffs and then we’re ready because we’ve already been playing playoffs before,” Beckerman said.

While Petke wants his players to have had a playoff-type intensity since the preseason, he acknowledged that with the season coming to a close, increased sharpness is “inevitable.”

“If you want to call that the playoff mentality, then absolutely,” Petke said. "To me, it’s that we’re getting close to the end of the year. We’ve done some really good things this year, and as we’ve gotten middle to the second half [of the season], we’ve improved on a lot of things — on our road form, our closing out games and our experience and maturity. I think the guys are feeling it right now. They’re excited about this part of the season. They’re excited about where we’re at right now and the potential of climbing higher.”


When • Saturday, 7:30 p.m.