Herriman • After playing three games in the span of just two months with the United States Men’s National Team earlier this year, Real Salt Lake forward Corey Baird experienced a setback.
After being named to the 40-man preliminary roster for this summer’s Gold Cup, Baird didn’t make the final cut of 23 names. It didn’t matter that he’d started and recorded an assist in his first-ever USMNT appearance in late January. It didn’t matter that he’d also started against Chile in late March.
What mattered was Baird wasn’t exactly getting it done with RSL. Heading into the Gold Cup, he had scored only one goal after notching eight with five assists last season, when he grabbed the Rookie of the Year nod. Baird said in July that his lack of production in 2019 was something he wanted to fix.
“Not making that was definitely a bit of a … reality check,” Baird said Thursday.
And fix it he did. Baird’s recent form, which includes scoring three goals in a two-game stretch and starting five of the last six games, caught the eye of USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter, who rewarded him with yet another call-up.
Baird will play two games with the national team for friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay on Sept. 6 and 10, respectively. It’s the second-year forward’s third call-up to the national team this year, having already appeared in three games.
“Corey is a guy who did well in the January camp and he’s a player that needs to continue to push at the club level to stay in the national team picture,” Berhalter said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “We think he had some good performances as of late and has made a claim to be back in it.”
One of those performances came earlier this month when Baird scored two goals in a road victory over Sporting Kansas City. Interim coach Freddy Juarez said Baird’s recent play has grown his confidence to the point that on Thursday, the forward shot — and scored — in a situation that a month ago he would have been passed off to a teammate.
“I think the confidence helps,” Juarez said. “Now getting called in to the national team, it almost gives you that reassurance that you are a good player. So then that reassurance gets your confidence up a little bit higher.”
Although Baird acknowledged he felt disappointed about not making the Gold Cup roster, he found positives in being left off.
“I think it’s just a bit humbling,” Baird said. “It’s not just going to come easy. You have to keep working for it. It’s just a little bit of a reminder, which I think is always good for people so you don’t get too complacent.”
Berhalter said Baird will “stay relevant” with the national team so long as he continues to perform at the club level. But more often than not, he has chosen Baird to be in the mix, so it’s clear he sees something in RSL homegrown player from Escondido, Calif.
“Corey is a guy that gives you everything on the field, is very open to instruction and we’re looking forward to see if he can make an impact with us,” Berhalter said.
Every time Baird has received a career accolade, he has usually followed it up with remarks about not letting it get to his head and trying to stay in the moment. So even though this is his third call-up with the USMNT, his focus is performing the best he can with RSL. As long as he does that, all the other stuff will come.
“If I’m playing well here, starting every game, getting goals, getting assists, doing what the team needs,” Baird said, “I think that’s the stuff that gets you called in.”
REAL SALT LAKE at PORTLAND TIMBERS
At Providence Park, Portland
Kickoff » Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MT
TV » KMYU
Radio » 700 AM
Records » RSL 13-10-4; Portland 11-11-4
Last meeting » Portland 2, RSL 1 (May 4)
About Portland » Timbers have won each of the last three games against RSL. … They sit eighth in the Western Conference standings. … Brian Fernández leads team with 10 goals. … Portland has lost its last two home matches.
About RSL » Jefferson Savarino, Albert Rusnák and Corey Baird will leave for their respective national teams after the game. … Rusnák and Sam Johnson lead team with nine goals apiece. … Only lost two of last 11 games. … Baird returns after serving a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation.