Real Salt Lake has several attacking pieces to call upon at any moment. Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach, Jefferson Savarino, and so on. However it was one of their star performers from last season who helped them pick up an important three points on the road Saturday night.
Corey Baird’s first-career MLS brace propelled RSL to a 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park. It was Baird’s first goals since May 12th, which now gives him three on the season. They also came in an important time of the season as RSL tries to remain in the Western Conference playoff picture.
“It feels great. The last couple of years we’ve had a great rivalry with Sporting. Their fans really brought it today and it was a fun game to play in,” Baird said.
“I think I’ve struggled a little bit this year to get on the stat sheet so it’s nice to be getting some goals here and helping the team out to get the win.”
The defending MLS Rookie of the Year broke onto the scene scoring eight goals and adding five assists in 33 appearances last season. His first goal came eight minutes after SKC took the lead, as Baird was in the right place to put home a rebound.
His eventual game-winning goal came off an RSL fast break in the 70th minute, which Baird slotted home past Tim Melia. It was a confident finish and one that RSL will hope sparks Baird into more performances like this in the last two months of the season.
“It’s very good, for Corey especially. Corey is one of those guys that needs to get in a rhythm. Previous games it seemed like he was out of rhythm a bit and we gave him an opportunity to rest because was in the national team earlier in the year. I’m glad to see Corey on good form now and this is where we want to see guys clicking,” RSL assistant coach Tyrone Marshall said.
“He was engaged tonight, he was active, getting behind with runs, checking back. That’s the Corey that we saw last year and that’s the Corey that we want going forward and that’s what we got tonight. Kudos to him. I’m excited for him. I’m glad for Corey and I’m glad for the group.”
The 23-year-old brings something different to RSL’s attack with a variety of other attackers being paired next to him. Rusnak’s technical ability with the ball, Kreilach’s hold-up play, and Savarino’s pace and creativity rounds out the front four for RSL who are one of MLS’ more dynamic attacking fronts.
Sam Johnson and Runsak both dealt with injuries but are back with the club, while Sebastian Saucedo and Joao Plata are fighting to get involved. With RSL riding a five-match unbeaten streak heading into a tough four-match run to end the month, every player including Baird could be called on to produce.
“Sporting is a team that throws a lot of numbers forward and they’re really good at it but on the counter it’s a good place where we can get at them and there’s a lot of space. Savarino played me an amazing ball. He had tons of space and I was able to find tons of space on the back side,” Baird said.
“It’s something we want to do against a team like this. If we can weather the storm defensively and then get the ball and break, we can be really dangerous. Over the course of the year we’ve shown how we can be dangerous on the counter.”
RSL begins a three match homestand on Wednesday against the Seattle Sounders before facing LAFC and the Colorado Rapids before visiting Portland on Aug. 31st.