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LAFC 2021 Player Postmortem: Corey Baird

Forward’s stay at club was ultimately short.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at LA Galaxy Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Corey Baird was the latest “exploding drummer,” if you know your Spinal Tap, in LAFC’s central striker spot, when he was acquired ahead of the 2021 season from Real Salt Lake. Once the MLS Rookie of the Year, Baird’s skillset showed he was both a scorer but also someone who could play farther back, and inexplicably, RSL decided to take him away from goal when they needed someone to score goals.

So I was upbeat when he got picked up by LAFC. Assuming Bob Bradley wasn’t going to play him in midfield, Baird could play across the forward line, and I think his previous stats significantly sandbagged his ability to pile up goals. He may not have been a sexy name, but a domestic scorer on a pretty affordable price can be worth his weight in gold in MLS.

Baird was probably joining the team expecting to be at best the third scoring option, a role I think he would have thrived at, but when Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi started the season hurt or got hurt minutes into the season, well, all the high-scoring hopes got pinned on Baird, probably pretty unfairly.

Here are Baird’s stats with LAFC:

Corey Baird 2021 LAFC Statistics

2021 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2021 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS 14 9 758 3 2 15 8 2 0

Baird started pretty well, scoring a few goals early in his tenure, with Vela and Rossi out and LAFC struggling to launch to start the season. Unfortunately, the defense repeatedly would concede after LAFC scored, or would find away to give away points at the end of games, again and again. If the defense was pretty normal, Baird’s goals may have helped them stay afloat, but it didn’t.

And ended rather quickly. After seeming to fall out of the depth chart to a large extent, LAFC traded Baird to the Houston Dynamo at the end of the July. Did they hate him that much? Not at all — it was the return they got. When LAFC acquired Baird, they paid RSL $500,000 in allocation money and an international roster slot for 2021. When they traded him six months later, Houston paid them $750,000 and an international slot for the rest of 2021.

So basically a forward who scored at a rate of every four to five games somehow increased his trade value by a third in just six months. The numbers don’t make sense! Of course LAFC took that deal, that’s a deal for a player who is not a regular starter at that point that you rip the other team’s hand off to shake. It’s a no-brainer.

And then, LAFC signed Cristian Arango and he started his MLS tenure like a house on fire. Frankly, Arango was ultimately the Rossi replacement, even though he played through the middle, but as the new starting central striker, he was clearly an upgrade over Baird. I still think Baird could have worked, but the outstanding return in the trade with Houston, plus Arango’s strong play, meant Baird’s sojourn was the right call for LAFC.

It does add to the sense that LAFC can’t keep a central striker, for whatever reason. All of Marcos Ureña, Adama Diomandé, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Baird came and went at rapid rates, regardless of their respective effectiveness. The circumstances surrounding all of those departures differed, to be sure, and maybe things will change with a new head coach, we’ll see. But between the rotating goalkeepers and rotating center forwards, it’s been an odd trend in the first four years of LAFC.

Baird struggled after joining the Dynamo, not scoring in seven appearances and being sidelined by an injury down the stretch. Even if he didn’t end up being the perfect fit for LAFC, it was a tough break in Houston and I still think he can come good, if he’s played in the right spot and gets a good run. Basically, I’m still rooting for him because I think he’s been a bit hard done by so far in his career.

But since Baird didn’t last a full season with LAFC, I don’t expect a return for him, although of course you never know. We’ll see what the future brings for him.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.