LAFC fans are likely aware of Corey Baird, the speedy forward who has been a mainstay on the attack of Western Conference opponent Real Salt Lake since 2018. He earned the 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year Award, and in his three short years as a professional has already played in three MLS Cup Playoff matches, including the defeat of LAFC in 2018 and has earned four U.S. Senior National Team caps along the way.
We have seen Baird from afar, but after he became the newest member of the Black & Gold on Jan. 11 in a trade, we spoke to him and got his thoughts on everything from coming back to his Southern Californian roots and his career goals.
You can also follow Corey on Instagram @coreybaird23 and on Twitter @bairdy_23.
To begin, as someone with Southern California roots, how does it feel to be representing Los Angeles? (Baird is originally from Escondido, CA)
Corey Baird: It’s definitely awesome. I remember when I was looking around at colleges I just wanted to stay in California. So being back in California is definitely something I'm looking forward to. I’ve also actually never lived in L.A. but I've heard a lot of great things for friends that do live there.
In your short time as a professional, you have already picked up a major MLS honors in the 2018 Rookie of the Year Award and have already played in three MLS Cup Playoff matches. What can you tell us about your experience in the league so far?
Baird: Coming into the League I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but now I'll be going into my fourth year so I feel like I’ve been around once or twice. I'm just really excited to get going with a new organization. I was definitely comfortable at Real Salt Lake, but sometimes you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone so I think that's something LAFC can give me and really push me to excel next year.
As a versatile forward, what are you looking forward to about coming into an LAFC squad with an already existing array of attacking talent in 2020 MLS Young Player of the Year / Golden Boot winner Diego Rossi, 2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela and Uruguayan National Team player Brian Rodriguez.
Baird: I think it's going to be a challenge for me to find a way to fit in with those guys and find ways to complement their game. It's a challenge that I'm looking forward to, and a challenge that I’m up for. If I want to become an elite player in this League, I need to be able to play with guys like that, succeed with guys like that.
So, although it can definitely be daunting, just with the numbers they’ve put up, how well they've done over the past couple years, I'm just excited for the opportunity to not only compete against them in training but to work with them on the field and see where that can take my game.
You’re joining LAFC as a player that has had to face the this team a lot over the last three years as an opponent. What have been your previous experiences with RSL playing at Banc of California Stadium facing LAFC?
Baird: One thing that has always stuck out for me, besides the on-field stuff, is the fanbase. I remember the playoff game there my rookie year, the place was just rocking. Every time LAFC would come to Rio Tinto they had an incredibly loud supporters section in the corner of the stadium. So, I’m excited to be playing for a fanbase that really gets behind their players like that.
Then on the field, they have a style of play that they stick to that I’m personally a fan of, and we [at RSL] knew we were always in for a hard game. We knew they were a team that was going to have the ball a lot and really make you work defensively. So, I’d say I'm definitely happier playing on the other side in that regard.
Shifting to international play, you’ve already earned four caps for the U.S. Senior National Team, along with representing the U.S. at youth levels. What does it mean to you to be able to step out on the pitch to represent your country?
Baird: It was a lifelong dream. Ever since I was a kid, to think about representing your country on the field like that, it was an incredible moment for me. The last year or so, though, I’ve taken a bit of a dip and got away from that group. So, I'm hoping that this ends up being a great move for me where I can regain some form, get that confidence back and really push for a spot in that group again.
What are some of your personal goals for next season and joining LAFC?
Baird: I mean any player wants to win trophies. You want silverware. You want to win something. So, I know LAFC is a team that's going to be pushing for the Supporters Shield, for MLS Cup every year. Getting into the Champions League, pushing for a trophy there.
I want to win things. I know the club hasn't been around for a long time, but they've already made such an impact in the League. So, I want to continue that and then also just use that to better myself and get back on the National Team, be getting more goals and assists every year and really just improving as a player.