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The Salt: 2020 should have been the year of Corey Baird

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It could have been a brilliant career. And maybe it still can be, just not here.

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

When we started in on 2020 (which is a sentence that has way more weight than I thought it did a year ago,) I was confident that Corey Baird could be a difference-maker for this team.

I also thought he kind of needed to be, with Jefferson Savarino leaving for Brazil in an unfortunate-if-understandable move that left RSL with a bit of cash.

See, Baird was the only player on the wing that had proven anything with us. He was the 2018 Rookie of the Year. 2019 might have seemed a little bit of a slump, but it was not too surprising to see that sophomore effort.

Year three, I thought, would be the year that Corey Baird became a star player for this team.

Unfortunately, what we saw was not that. It wasn’t usually outright bad — for the most part, at least — and certainly, Baird was hardly the only player to have struggled for this team last year. But despite all that, Baird had a hard year.

Shots on target

Surprisingly, for every two shots Corey Baird took on target, he scored one goal. Unfortunately, that means that in 2020, in which Baird was one of the few quality attacking players on offer consistently, he only put four shots on target.

And that’s not great. The surprising thing about this is that he actually took more shots per game in 2020 than he did in 2019, with a shot coming every 52 minutes instead of every 65 minutes. That, in a way, allows us to look at this differently, because we know that Baird was taking shots and that the number didn’t dip from 2019 because there were fewer games.

Baird’s shots-on-target rate was lower than any other player with any shots on target, bar two: Aaron Herrera and Nedum Onuoha. (There are other players lower, but they had no shots on target at all.

A flailing Real Salt Lake

I actually don’t know how much stock an external observer should put into the above statistics, though. Baird had no proper support at striker, and while he can play the nine, our roster was constructed such that Baird often had to play the wing, simply because we didn’t have other players in the position. (Yes, I know we had Jeizon Ramirez never playing, like it or not) While we could have reconfigured to account for that weakness, we didn’t, and it meant that Baird was sort of on an island a lot of the time.

It wasn’t great, and I think it further heightened his frustration at times. That’s something that certainly came out on the field, laid bare for all to see.

It’s funny, really. Or maybe it’s not funny, but it’s something. We had 18,000 midfielders on the roster, four wingers (one of whom didn’t play), multiple forwards (kind of) and we still ended up with things mismatched and strewn about it a none-too-pleasing way. I dunno. It was weird.

$500,000 in allocation

So this is wild. $500,000 in general allocation money is a lot for a team like us. It’s probably about right for Baird, and it represents what I take as a general belief that he’s much better than his 2020 indicated. Maybe it was supposed to be the year of Baird — it didn’t turn out that way.

Could Baird have performed better with a better roster? Almost certainly. Good players make other players better, generally speaking. Baird wasn’t helped by the conditions he was in, and it will be very interesting to see how he fares at LAFC.