SALT LAKE CITY — First cap. First assist. And another goal for a fellow debutant.
Real Salt Lake forward Corey Baird capped his first-ever game in a U.S. men’s national team uniform with a start from new coach Gregg Berhalter, then rewarded his coach’s confidence with an assist on the game winning goal in a 3-0 win Sunday night over Panama in an international friendly at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Baird assisted on the opening goal of the game, sliding a cross to newcomer Djordje Mihailovic in the 40th minute en route to a 1-0 halftime lead.
Mihailovic became the 42nd member of the U.S. men's national team to score a goal in his debut match. Walker Zimmerman and Christian Ramirez each added a goal in the final 10 minutes for the U.S.
Baird and Mihailovic were two of five debutants in Berhalter's starting XI, the most since 1992. Jeremy Ebobisse, Nick Lima and Daniel Lovitz also made first starts for the national team.
The starters averaged 25 years and 11 days old, with just two players who had more than six appearances prior to Sunday: Michael Bradley (142) and Gyasi Zardes (40).
"I think we want to put all of our players in positions that highlight their strengths," Berhalter told the media after the game. "Corey’s timing is excellent, so we want to put him in a place out wide where he can highlight that.
“What we’re trying to do is put players in positions that play to their strengths."
Baird played 75 minutes in his first match with the national team before being subbed off.
One of two RSL players called into January camp alongside teammate Justen Glad, Baird was named the Major League Soccer Rookie of the Year after a breakout inaugural campaign when the 22-year-old notched eight goals and five assists.
Real Salt Lake went 6-2-2 last year when the club got a goal or an assist from Baird, who led all rookies in scoring and tied for second on the team behind Damir Kreilach (12 goals).
The United States wore black armbands adorned with “Sigi” for the match, a tribute to former national team manager and national soccer hall of famer Sigi Schmidt, who died suddenly on Christmas.
Contributing: Associated Press