Offensive contributions are an expectation for Corey Baird, not a reward


The objective of an offensive player is to score goals. The measurements around that are unique, but the goal remains all the same: put the ball across the line. 

Part of team soccer is understanding that only one, two, or as many as three players can be credited for a goal contribution. With 11 players on the field, someone is being left out, mathematically speaking. Some versions of successful team soccer have a group of 11 creating and/or executing a cohesive plan to score.

But at the end of that, someone has to play a pass or take a shot that ultimately puts the ball in the back of the net. Corey Baird, one of FC Cincinnati’s newest offensive weapons, is coming off a year where he did just that. A lot. 

After bouncing around from three clubs in three years, 2023 was a breakout year for the 28-year-old forward, who signed a two-year deal with FC Cincinnati with an option for a third year this offseason. In a team-high 47 appearances for the Houston Dynamo last season, the California native netted a career-high 14 goals and eight assists across all competitions, helping lead the Dynamo to a U.S. Open Cup trophy and a spot in the Western Conference Finals. 

Now Baird, entering his eighth MLS campaign, is looking to bring that scoring touch to FC Cincinnati and expects himself to add to the scoring arsenal that is already loaded with talent.

“I want to be part of those final actions, that's getting the goals and assists,” Baird said after the club's 2-0 preseason friendly victory over the New England Revolution last week. “I think, as a forward, those key moments are what makes a good forward. So, you can do a lot of good stuff on the field, but if you're not impacting the score line, for me, that's something I'm always working towards.” 

Last season was a return to form of sorts for the Stanford alumnus. After opening his career tab as a homegrown for Real Salt Lake in 2018 with an eight-goal, six-assist performance and winning the MLS Rookie of the Year award, his direct scoring output plateaued. As a hot commodity, he was traded to LAFC in 2021 and then moved shortly thereafter to Houston Dynamo FC.

The change in scenery, positional changes, role changes, teammate turnover and general displacement left him struggling to tally up points in the same way as his freshman campaign. 

But that changed in 2023; Baird’s utilization was optimized, and he finally found himself finishing goal-scoring opportunities. Part of that was the group he was with, as Houston was one of the Western Conference's top clubs, but also the striker role he was asked to play. Whereas in other stops and seasons his versatility as a midfielder or winger contributed to team success, but hampered his statistics.

“I think that just comes with getting to know the guys on the field, what kind of service they like, what kind of runs they want to be making, they want me making, so that’s just something that comes with time.” 

Baird has been involved in the FC Cincinnati activities since they opened in early January, giving him as much time to mesh with the group as possible, a preference for FCC head coach Pat Noonan that he has highlighted many times in the preseason. While Baird has not factored into the three preseason goals the club has scored in two friendlies, his performances have clearly been quality and it feels as though it is more of a ‘when’ than an ‘if.’ 

What remains to fully be seen in regards to Baird’s position with the team is just that, his position. At present, in the formation that Noonan utilized most last season, Baird is slotted in to be the second striker next to Aaron Boupendza in a three-man offensive unit along with 2023 Landon Donovan MLS MVP Luciano Acosta. But part of what makes Baird an especially good fit with FCC is his versatility. 

“I've kind of bounced around a bit in my career, positionally. So I like to think I can help out in different areas. And depending on what the team needs, that's combined a little more about stretching the game, I think I have a good understanding of when to do what.”


With so many matches in 2024, including three cup competitions on top of the 34-game MLS regular season, lineup rotation and flexibility is going to be a factor. By having a player like Baird, who can play a multitude of different positions and roles for the club, the flexibility for Noonan and his coach staff improves.

That being said, the striker position typically yields more finishing opportunities, so if Baird’s slotted into that role, he will be in a better position to get finishes. But if he’s not, and he’s utilized in a different way, that doesn't change the expectations.

“I already know myself,” Baird admitted with a smile. “I want to be part of those finishing actions no matter what.” 

A striker wants to score goals. This is not a surprising or new development in the least. But when you have dominant players around you with a history of being the finisher, it can be a tall task to immediately come in and take from their scoring output. Fortunately for FCC, Baird is perfectly familiar with playing with superstars and can seamlessly integrate with a playstyle like the one Acosta brings.

In Houston, Baird played with MLS All-Star Héctor Herrera, a standout in the league who generated a lot of MLS MVP buzz (that ultimately went to Acosta) but has been a star on the international level for years. Herrera and Acosta both played a central attacking midfielder role and roamed the field in a positionless creator capacity en route to huge 2023 seasons.

While playing with Acosta (compared to Herrera) is obviously different in reality, having an understanding of how to play off greatness is an extremely useful asset to making a mark quickly in Orange and Blue this season. 

“There's definitely similarities between Lucho and Hector,” Baird said. “There are some things I've already picked up on where Lucho and I've had some good combinations.

“He can do some magic with the ball,” Baird added about his new captain. “So sometimes it's just being patient, letting him do that, letting him beat that first guy and then you're waiting for that next pass. 

“So, it’s still a learning curve into what he wants from me, how can I get him into better spots, and then when he does get into those good spots for both of us, creating some magic. … That just takes time. Time and reps.”

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Off the field, or perhaps more adjacent to it, Baird is well known to his teammates for his friendly demeanor, willingness to be outgoing and ability to laugh at himself. One teammate referred to him as “the easiest hang,” another as “got the right vibes,” and a third as “a straight-up dude” with an emphasis on dude. Part of that shines through in his playstyle and how he interacts with teammates, but particularly does in his goal celebrations.

Social media was ablaze when Baird cashed in on a goal and unveiled a ‘crab’ celebration with his teammates. A celebration that he would clarify is a reference to the animated show “Futurama” character Dr. Zoidberg (who is a crab-like alien). He once again ‘went viral’ after another goal when he busted out a bunny hop that was inspired by a Fortnite (a popular video game with all FCC players) celebration that had been added to the game recently.

Baird is driven to success and expects it of himself, which requires a degree of intensity that fits with the culture FCC have cultivated under Noonan and his coaching staff. But along the way, he’s got a friendly demeanor in his off time.

History of success

The increased production Baird saw in 2023 directly resulted in success for his club as he lifted the U.S. Open Cup with Houston, marking his first professional trophy. But that history of success is long and storied.

At Stanford, Baird was part of a generational group that set NCAA records and dominated the collegiate ranks while he was there. After arriving to play for the Cardinal in 2014, he won four consecutive Pac-12 titles, and the NCAA National Championship in 2015, 2016 and 2017, only the second time in collegiate soccer history that a men’s team had won national championships in three consecutive years. 

Corey Baird has all the makings of an excellent fit with The Orange and Blue. He’s a well-liked teammate who brings the experience of success, and the flexibility and competitiveness that this club values. It feels like only a matter of time before he becomes a household name in the Queen City.