SANDY — Real Salt Lake snuck into the MLS Cup playoffs, getting a little help from the Houston Dynamo on the league’s final day of the regular season. They then upset Los Angeles FC in the knockout stage.
But one player didn’t sneak up on the league.
Rookie forward Corey Baird rolled to the MLS Rookie of the Year award, the league announced Monday morning after the RSL homegrown scored eight goals to lead all rookies in the regular season.
The 22-year-old helped RSL to a 6-2-2 record in the regular season when he registered a goal or an assist, anchoring a front line that also included midfielder Damir Kreilach (12 goals), Joao Plata (eight) and Jefferson Savarino (seven goals).
“It’s amazing. It’s something at the beginning of the year that I wasn’t even thinking about,” said Baird, who also had five assists. “The year has really taken off in a way I’ve never expected and never could have seen coming.
“The veterans on the team are inclusive and very helpful with advice and encouragement. I think the club does a great job of integrating new guys. That was enormous for me and I can’t thank them enough for that.”
Baird received more than 40 percent of the three-tiered voting for the award from a panel of players, media and club executives. He took nearly 48 percent of the media vote, dwarfing second-place Mark McKenzie of Philadelphia in that category.
The ROY's favorite pic.twitter.com/LqoGG0tk7G— Real Salt Lake (@realsaltlake) November 5, 2018
But excelling on the pitch isn’t anything new to Baird. A native of the San Diego area, Baird won three national titles at Stanford before signing a homegrown deal after his RSL Academy developmental stint. He scored the first goal of his career back on March 30, coming off the bench in a 3-1 loss at Toronto FC, and earning a starting spot the next week.
Baird appeared in 31 regular-season matches, totaling 1,903 minutes and 21 starts.
“We are extremely proud of Corey fo this development over the course of the season,” RSL general manager Craig Waibel said in a statement. “When he got an opportunity to get playing time, he took it and ran with it, and had an incredibly productive season.
“It’s a great testament to his work ethic, but also how well-prepared he was to play at the professional level after playing under Jeremy Gunn at Stanford and Freddy Juarez and Martin Vasquez at the RSL Academy.”
RSL continues the Western Conference semifinals Sunday, Nov. 11 at Sporting Kansas City. The two teams played to a 1-1 draw Sunday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.