With training camp just days away and the opening matches of the 2024 regular season looming over the horizon, FC Cincinnati continue to retool for success with the addition of veteran forward Corey Baird.
Baird, 27, has signed a contract through 2025 with an option for 2026 with FCC, joining The Orange and Blue after another breakout season with Houston Dynamo FC, where he set career highs in goals scored, assists and appearances. He also played an instrumental role in the Dynamo winning their second U.S. Open Cup title in 2023, starting every match of the club's run.
"I couldn't be more excited to join FC Cincinnati and meet the fans and my teammates," said Baird. "It's really exciting to join a club with one of the best fanbases and the best stadiums in the league, and I can't wait to challenge for trophies this year. My first game of the season was at TQL Stadium last year, and the place was rocking. I'm looking forward to being on the other side of things and having those fans on our side."
In 2023, Baird appeared in 48 matches, including the Open Cup, Leagues Cup and the MLS Cup Playoffs, where the Dynamo fell in the Western Conference Finals to LAFC. With eight goals and six assists in league play (13 and seven across all competitions), few were as effective and dynamic in his position in 2023. While he is listed regularly as a winger, sometimes even a midfielder, his utilization as a striker in a two-man group rose with his performance under Houston head coach Ben Olson.
With Brandon Vazquez's transfer to Liga MX side CF Monterrey formalized, FCC found itself in need of reinforcements in the forward group, and while it's challenging to outright replace Vazquez, the addition of Baird helps support the roster while offering unique and familiar skill sets that have been successful elsewhere.
"We're excited to bring Corey to Cincinnati," said Chris Albright, FC Cincinnati general manager. "He is a player with a versatile skill set and an eye for goal who will be a valuable addition to our attack. He's a proven winner with great character, and we'd like to welcome him and his family to the club."
Defensive work rate, energy, hustle and versatility are all words used to describe the 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year, an award he won fresh out of Stanford University as a Homegrown signee with Real Salt Lake. As an attacker, Baird excelled as an active member of the offense, but was also one of the best forwards in coming back on defense.
"He does so much dirty work for this team," said Olsen to USSoccer.com last September. "Corey understands how to be the first line of defense."
That work rate quickly helped make him a favorite by fans in the Space City, and placed him in positions to succeed on the offensive end per Olsen, who credits his goal contributions to the hard work put in all over the field. "He's starting to get rewarded with goals," Olsen added.
While he will be new to the club, there is a certain amount of shared DNA one could point to that shows why Baird will be an easy puzzle piece to plug into the FC Cincinnati lineup.
Baird's ability to press and work off the ball fits tidily into the high-pressing tactics that FCC head coach Pat Noonan utilized in his 2023 Supporters' Shield winning campaign. Baird’s playoff and cup-winning experience also adds veteran maturity to the roster that is trending younger due to free-agent departures. In addition to winning the 2023 U.S. Open Cup, Baird was part of a golden generation at Stanford that won three consecutive national championships. Delivering trophies is something he's used to.
In addition to that, he's also intimately familiar with playing with creative attacking midfielders like Luciano Acosta. Baird, who played with Héctor Herrera, who tallied 17 assists in 2023 (second in MLS), was often tasked with being the forward man alongside the Dynamo's star DP. Now paired alongside the 2023 MLS Landon Donovan MVP, he can enter a similar dynamic.
What makes it even more uncanny is that both Acosta (while with D.C. United) and Baird have been coached by Olsen and taken significant strides forward under his tutelage. The exciting part of that equation is that Acosta blossomed into a league MVP under Noonan, pointing to optimism for further development for Baird under the 2023 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year in Noonan.
FC Cincinnati’s roster continues to form and finalize as the opening of the 2024 season approaches. With training camp set to start next week, Baird joins a free agent class for FC Cincinnati that stands above any other clubs regarding MLS acquisitions. By joining U.S. Men's National Team member and former Atlanta United FC star Miles Robinson on The Orange and Blue, FCC has acquired two of the top 16 free agents on the market, including the top free agent in Robinson, per The Athletic's Tom Bogert.