LOS ANGELES — In his first conversation with reporters ahead of the 2019 MLS season, LAFC coach Bob Bradley shared a brief anecdote about a conversation he had with a player walking off the pitch after the club’s first preseason training session.
“I said, ‘what did you think?’” Bradley recalled. “He said he had a few sloppy touches, and I said, ‘You had more the first day last year, so you’re doing just fine.’”
The player in question was 2018 revelation Mark-Anthony Kaye.
Bradley felt their interchange showed both the contrast between the preseason preparedness of this year's team this year as opposed to last year’s — which assembled at UCLA while the expansion side’s performance center at Cal State LA was still being completed — and Kaye's individual progress.
“The training field, the facility, the fact that now when we start, more guys are in tune with the kind of ideas,” Bradley explained in comparing the two preseasons. “It's great that some guys are already far into that project, and that’s a way of introducing others and trying to get the whole thing moving.”
Kaye, for his part, is thrilled to be training alongside his teammates as preseason gets underway after his MLS debut campaign ended prematurely due to ankle surgery.
“It’s not easy coming back from injuries like this,” the Canadian international midfielder confessed.
Signed from 2017 USL champions Louisville City FC, Kaye saw regular minutes from the jump with LAFC, starting 20 of their first 21 league games. His work ethic and performances quickly endeared him to the Black & Gold faithful as he became the glue that held a fluid midfield together.
Then came his ankle fracture against the LA Galaxy, during LAFC’s second contest with their crosstown rivals at Banc of California Stadium, in late July.
“The toughest part of it is battling through, coming back after the surgery, and learning how to walk again, how to run again,” said Kaye, who after undergoing his operation, cruised around LAFC events, co-anchored game broadcasts and hung about during training over the latter portion of the 2018 season while he was still in a cast.
“I was around the team the whole time, so I wasn’t able to play, but I still felt part of the group.”
Fellow midfielder Lee Nguyen, who scored his first goal for LAFC on the ensuing free kick after the foul that led to Kaye’s injury, voiced his enthusiasm for the player’s return.
“It’s good to have Mark back,” said Nguyen. “He was a big miss as well last year when he came off.”
While teammates, coaches and staff supported Kaye as he fought to recover, he got the biggest lift from club supporters.
“When you got more than 20,000 fans supporting you and sending you messages everyday, you feel very welcome and valued,” he said.
That support is still appreciated even now.
“I don’t feel 100 percent yet," he said. "I’ve just been cleared for training. It’s going to take me another month and a bit to get back to how I felt, super-comfortable on the field.”
To that end, the 24-year-old also feels the need to prove his first 20 LAFC starts were only the beginning, after signing a contract extension in December.
“When people look back on the season I had, they are always going to be like, ‘well, it was only half a season,’ and no one really likes a doubter,” said Kaye. “So I’ve got to prove them wrong this year.”