When Corey Baird was called up to the US national team’s January camp it was a tip of the cap to Baird from Gregg Berhalter for his rookie of the year season. However, if there is one thing that is certain with Corey Baird, he never stops grinding. He had a good enough camp to survive the last round of cuts and make the travel roster which was impressive, but he still wasn’t done. Tonight he accomplished his first international cap, his first start and his first assist. Most important of all, he showed that on this night against this Panamanian team he belonged. He wasn’t out of his depth and he certainly wasn’t intimidated.
Typically my post game recaps for the national team aren’t about just one player but the overall performance. Tonight however, it is hard not to be stoked that Real Salt Lake saw a player on the field for the US for the first time since 2017, with Nick Rimando being the last to do so. So we will bask in this for just a moment before breaking down the big moments from tonights game.......Alright, moving on.
First Half -
This game featured two teams comprised of domestic players only. This is due to the fact that there isn’t a FIFA international window at the moment so players playing abroad are with their respective clubs. So despite tonight’s exciting result, everything should be taken with a big grain of salt. The US and Berhalter needed a win to help bring many of the disillusioned supporters back from the brink and they accomplished their mission and did so with style.
In the first half the US dominated possession for 7 out of the 9 possible 5’ minute intervals, finishing the game with 65.8% possession. It was impressive how freely they moved the ball around, winning it back quickly whenever it was lost. The US was on the front foot for much of the first period and you could feel the pressure mounting around goal.
Corey Baird played a central figure in the attack as he set multiple players up with opportunities, and came inches away from bagging his own goal. He reacted quickly to a Panamanian half-clearance to nod the ball down to Gyasi Zardes who rewarded him by laying the ball off to Corey as he continued his run at the top of the box. Corey then hit it first time off his left foot low and hard beating the keeper but not the post.
Only minutes later Baird assisted the first goal of the night as he made a run down the right wing as the ball was played centrally. Zardes got on the end of the ball and combined once again with the onrushing Baird who hit it first time with his right foot to Djordje Mihailovic. The young Chicago Fire man made no mistake, smacking the ball into the bottom corner of the net and putting the US in the lead. Mihailovic became the 52nd US player to score on their first team debut. Another player would become the 53rd in the second half.
Second Half -
The US turned the screws even tighter in the second half as Panama just couldn’t manage to establish any meaningful possession. Corey Baird seemed to fade a bit as the game wore on, partly due to the US spending most of its time attacking down the other flank. Baird was subbed off in the 75th minute, making way for designated player Paul Arriola of DC United.
Despite the relative ease with which the US was controlling the game, goals #2 and #3 didn’t come until the last 10 minutes of the match. In the 80th minute, San Jose’s Nick Lima stopped a Panamanian counter with a crunching tackle. He cooly picked up his head and played a cross into the box to find Walker Zimmerman for the insurance goal. Lima, like Baird also saw his first international cap and first assist for the red, white and blue. He was also named the man of the match for his contributions on both sides of the ball.
The final goal came in the 89th minute courtesy of LAFC’s Christian Ramirez. Like Mihailovic, Ramirez scored on his intl. debut, becoming the 53rd US mens player to do so, taking him only 5 minutes from the time he subbed on to find the net. As RSL fans have seen up close, the guy seems to score with ease. It was the cherry on top of Coach Berhalter’s debut and should give the young team confidence as they head into their last friendly of the camp against Costa Rica on February 2nd.