SBI Spotlight: Mark-Anthony Kaye has unfinished business with LAFC

SBI Spotlight: Mark-Anthony Kaye has unfinished business with LAFC

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SBI Spotlight: Mark-Anthony Kaye has unfinished business with LAFC

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Mark-Anthony Kaye, playing alongside Eduard Atuesta and Latif Blessing for LAFC during the club’s MLS point record-breaking 2019 season, has seen his stock rise rapidly since entering the league the prior year. The 25-year-old Canadian national team midfielder’s journey to becoming one of the best midfielders in MLS is a tale of hard work, resilience, and his ability to adapt and learn.

Kaye’s professional soccer career began with more of thud than a bang.  He failed to sign with the Toronto FC first team after three years of rising up the club’s ranks from youth academy to the USL affiliate.

“I felt like I had done enough to sign with the first team, but it didn’t end up working that way,” Kaye told SBI. “So, I had to make a quick decision on the next step in my career and, luckily, I had a couple of options going into the USL. Louisville was one that stuck out to me because of the way they played.”

A move to Louisville City FC benefitted Kaye’s career in multiple ways. In Louisville, he found himself in an environment where players pushed to get the best out of each other, which ultimately resulted in the club winning the 2017 USL Cup. The exposure gained by winning USL as well as his debut for the Canadian National Team brought Kaye interest from multiple MLS clubs including Montreal, Vancouver, and Minnesota. However, moves to those teams fell through, and Kaye was left without the spot in the MLS he desired. 

Just days before reporting to training camp for Louisville City FC’s 2018 USL preseason, Kaye was in a gym with his good friend Greg Ranjitsingh when he received the call that would change his life.

“My agent called me saying LAFC is interested in you and they want to move this thing quickly,” Kaye said. “A couple of days later, when I got the news that LAFC had paid the transfer fee, Greg and I were jumping for joy, hearing the news, and not believing that something like this could happen to me.” 

Kaye packed his things and moved to sunny California. While the transition was quick for the 23-year-old, it certainly was not easy. Arriving late to LAFC training camp ahead of the club’s inaugural season left Kaye in a position where he had to take in information quickly, and he was tested at different positions, including center-mid, left-wing and left-back.

At that point, LAFC lacked midfield depth and Kaye seized the opportunity to earn himself a spot in the starting XI for LA’s inaugural match in Seattle. Bob Bradley inserted the youngster into the lineup in a match LAFC went on to win. Kaye’s spot in the midfield was his to keep. However, in the second installment of “El Trafíco,” the crosstown rivalry between LAFC and the LA Galaxy, Kaye suffered a season-ending knee injury. 

Ahead of the 2019 season, Coach Bradley remained confident in Kaye’s ability to return.

”Mark is a really important player for us,” Bradley told Sportsnet Canada at the time. “From the start he was open, he listened, and he applied our ideas. Before the injury, he was improving week by week. He has a bright future and I believe he will be back better than ever.”

Bradley was right, as Kaye bounced back and proved to be lethal for LAFC in its 72-point season, resulting in his inclusion on the 2019 MLS All-Star Team.

Kaye cites his early success at LAFC as motivation to recover from his injury and to return to the pitch stronger than ever.

“I had just come from the USL, and within six months, people started to recognize my game and players started to fear me,” Kaye said. “So, if I worked even harder, then the following year I would be able to do that and more. I think just that early success in MLS was enough to get me through the tough part of rehab.”

Kaye rewarded the coach who kept faith in him with his on-field performance and off-pitch dedication to develop as a player. Kaye’s growth in the Bradley system is evident by his crisp passing, his clean movement on the ball, and his dominant presence that leads to making strong challenges. 

“I’ve learned from Bob the importance of your footwork and body movement, which is something I feel gets neglected a lot by certain coaches,” Kaye said. “Bob is really detail-oriented. For me as a center-mid, he sees how we should maneuver our bodies, he sees what vision we should see on a pass, how to choose the right windows.”

Despite demolishing the regular-season points record and grabbing the Supporter’s Shield in the process, the 2019 MLS season ended bitterly for Kaye and LAFC, falling to Seattle at home in the Western Conference finals.

As disappointing as the end of the 2019 was, Kaye believes LAFC is ready to make a championship run in 2020.

“Obviously playoffs is a different game, as a club, we were still understanding how to play them,” Kaye said. “We’ve taken everything that has not worked or not gone our way and we always end up turning it around, that’s just the club mentality.”

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