Mark-Anthony Kaye - LAFC - close up

With Mark-Anthony Kaye set for surgery, who'll step up for LAFC?

For LAFC, dropping another multi-goal lead late to the LA Galaxy wasn't the worst byproduct of their 2-2 draw in the second installment of El Trafico.

Mark-Anthony Kaye, one of the players Bob Bradley could least afford to lose, suffered a fractured ankle that will require surgery. No timetable has been set for his return. Kaye picked up the injury after being fouled just outside the Galaxy's 18-yard box.

“I’ll start with the worst news of the night, it’s Mark-Anthony Kaye. He fractured the inside part of his ankle and will get surgery, so that part had me in a bad mood since I got the report at halftime," Bradley said after the game.

As Kaye writhed in pain on the Banc of California Stadium grass, Bradley was incensed with the incident on the sideline. Once Kaye was collected off the ground and brought to his feet, he couldn't put any pressure on his left ankle. Tears filled his eyes as he was slowly helped off the field, fearing the worst.

The play serves as a microcosm for what LAFC will be missing as Kaye faces a potentially lengthy spell on the sidelines: He anticipated and intercepted a poor clearance then powerfully revved towards the Galaxy goal. Sensing an incoming tackle, Kaye rolled Perry Kitchen and won a free kick in a dangerous position.

It's a huge blow for LAFC. Kaye has meant more to the club than could have ever been reasonably expected when he signed from USL side Louisville City with little fanfare.

Kaye, as well as Benny Feilhaber and Laurent Ciman, has been near-omnipresent for the club and a key impetus for LAFC's impressive rise to second place in the Western Conference. He has started all but one of their league games, scoring twice and adding five assists, and occupies a marauding, all-conquering box-to-box role.

Who can replace Kaye? With his unique ability in defense and attack, the duty won't fall to one pair of boots, but three: Lee Nguyen, Andre Horta and Eduard Atuesta.

In a poetic transition as Kaye disappeared down the tunnel, Nguyen drilled an inch-perfect free kick for his first LAFC goal on the foul Kaye won. Nguyen had his best game in black and gold on Thursday and can expect to start most games in Kaye's absence.

Nguyen had been playing regularly alongside Kaye, and Feilhaber, but Horta's looming presence muddied Nguyen's playing time outlook. Now, Bradley could form a first-choice midfield trio of Horta-Feilhaber-Nguyen, with Atuesta receiving an uptick in minutes as well.

Horta's LAFC debut on Thursday was ignominious. It was his misplaced backpass that sprung Ola Kamara on a breakaway for the Galaxy's late equalizer, but he also showed moments of quality, including when he smashed the post minutes later. Inches away from a game-winner, Horta nearly atoned immediately for his mistake. Regardless, he'll be fine. But now his club will need him to settle quicker than anticipated in Kaye's absence.

Atuesta, meanwhile, has been a more defense-minded rotation player in Bradley's midfield, appearing in 16 matches with 8 starts. The 21-year-old Colombian captained his U-20 national team at the South American Championship in 2017. 

John Thorrington and the LAFC front office have done a great job providing Bradley with depth. This roster can handle Kaye's absence better than any side could reasonably expect to, let alone an expansion club, but that depth will be tested and stretched thin as LAFC march on with a Kaye-sized hole in the midfield.