FCC Notebook | Little things 'non-negotiable' for Corey Baird and key player returns to training


The priority for Corey Baird is winning soccer games. That is, according to him, the most important part of any game he's a part of. It is nice to tally up personal stats, goals and assists, for example, but getting wins requires more than just those final actions. 

He wants those, too—the goals and assists. He'll tell you that getting those finishes is an important part of the job for any forward, but it doesn't define how he plays the game and performs for his club.

"I pride myself on doing all the little things," Baird said after the 2-1 victory over Atlanta United FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to a press scrum in the locker room. "I always thought you're not going to get to the highest level unless you're doing all those little things. So for me, that's non-negotiable."

Baird's early work rate is evident to all. As a pressing forward, Baird personifies the ideology of being the first line of defense when playing out of possesion, and a willing runner when playing with possession even if it doesn't mean a pass is coming his way. 

He describes that as "dirty work." These are the things that don't show up on the stat sheet but are vital to success. Things that take time to get recognized. 

The win over Atlanta United FC was an excellent example of how his play, while perhaps not as flashy, helped deliver results. On both goals, the California native played a role in making the opportunities possible without finding himself on the scoresheet.

The first, a breakout featuring Baird, Luciano Acosta and Luca Orellano, where Acosta carried the play forward, with Orellano and Baird making parallel runs up the field. The pass from Acosta led Orellano forward (and was really the only clean pass available) and the Argentine connection would cash in the equalizing goal. But Baird's run kept a second defender from crashing in on Orellano and making the attempt significantly harder, opening up space in the box and pulling attention. If he doesn't make that run, Orellano likely doesn't have a clean look on the net, as the defender doesn't have to attend to a potential pass across to Baird.

Dirty work. No praise, no stat sheet mention. But a goal all the same.

The second, ultimately game-winning goal, from Acosta on a cross from DeAndre Yedlin, also had Baird's presence on it. On the cross, Baird's presence in the box clearly pulled the attention from the keeper and defenders away from Acosta and on to him, so when Baird let the ball go clear over his head and onto Acosta's foot to control, the defenders had already moved to neutralize the American and left the 2023 MLS MVP all alone to finish the play. 

"You got to do your dirty work. You got to make some sacrifices for the team so at the end of the day the team can win," Baird continued. "I can pretty close myself today and hopefully the first one comes soon, but getting that win and having a good performance gives the myself and everyone confidence to build from." 

FC Cincinnati Head Coach Pat Noonan praised Baird for his performance after the Atlanta win, crediting his work in doing the little things to help others reach their potential. He highlighted how his ability to come off the line allowed Obinna Nwobodo and Pavel Bucha to receive the ball looking forward and progress up the field, for example.

But the scoring drought has undoubtedly left a mark and prompted more and more pressure to get the monkey off his back to scoring his first goal in Orange and Blue. Noonan also identified the pressure his player was feeling and urged patience and relaxation on that front from all the forwards, encouraging them to get back to the foundations of his game. Those little things. 

"Some of that's pressure I put on myself. I have an expectation for what I want to do on the field and having not contributed offensively quite the way I want to so far, but coming really close to scoring and not quite scoring. It's definitely some pressure on myself," Baird said Thursday at a press conference before the weekend's matchup with Colorado Rapid. "For me, it's can the team keep getting results? Can I keep doing the right things to get myself in good spots? If I keep getting in good spots, keep getting chances. Eventually, it will hit the post and go in, not the post and go out."

Celentano back in training, Hagglund recovering well

At his press conference ahead of the match with Colorado Rapids the weekend, FC Cincinnati Head Coach Pat Noonan updated the press on the status of his two players with injury concerns. 

Goalkeeper Roman Celenatano, who sustained an injury in a 2-1 win over the New England Revolution, has rejoined training in full this week. Wednesday was the more intense day for the keepers. Thus, the goalkeeper cleared a significant hurdle by training in full with no concerns. 

Noonan gave no indication as to who would be selected for the start on Saturday, saying, "I have a tough decision." Goalkeeper Alec Kann started each of the last two matches, and Evan Louro also started in Celentano's three-match absence thus far. But Noonan did say Celentano was in a "good position" and "back in full and looking better each day."

Nick Hagglund, who exited Saturday's game in the first half with an injury, sustained an injury that Noonan described Thursday as a 'bone bruise on his knee' after the club evaluated it in more detail in the days after the match. Hagglund, who only recently returned after hamstring surgery last season that kept him out through the entire preseason and most of the early part of the year, exited due to an abundance of caution but has since "passed all the tests" per Noonan and is looking to return shortly. 

While Noonan did say Hagglund would unfortunately be unavailable for Saturday's match, the defender had the knee drained, and the swelling went down after the initial stages. He could return to training next week. The hope is that he will be fully available for the club's match with Orlando City SC on May 4.