VANCOUVER, B.C. – Mark-Anthony Kaye was having a stellar first season in Major League Soccer last year. The young Canadian midfielder had been instrumental in LAFC’s strong start to the season, scoring two goals, recording five assists, and establishing himself as a two-way midfield linchpin to the expansion side over their first 20 matches.
It couldn’t have been going much better for the former USL standout after finally getting his shot in MLS, but then, in a flash, his season was over. A first-half injury in July’s El Trafico meeting saw Kaye undergo surgery to repair his broken left ankle, forcing him to miss the rest of LAFC’s inaugural season.
"I knew something was wrong right away," Kaye told MLSsoccer.com. "It's a lot of emotions running through your head at that time. It was a tough moment."
It’s been a long road back for Kaye but he’s now returned to the LAFC starting lineup this season and while there's been no visible signs of any lingering problems from his injury, he's not quite where he wants to be just yet.
"There's good and bad days," Kaye admitted. "I just kind of go with the flow with it. I'm always trying to push myself to the highest level I can be at. My fitness, I feel good, and LAFC did a good job to prepare me for the season after my injury. So it's just continuing to do the extra work at the gym and take care of my body so that I can actually perform at the level I'm required to."
The Canadian had been in the Toronto FC system earlier in his career without being offered a MLS deal, but his performances in helping Louisville City FC win the 2017 USL Cup caught Bob Bradley's attention and his importance to LAFC was cemented in December when the club signed him to a three-year contract extension.
His standout performances may have turned some heads last season, but Kaye always knew he had what it took to play in MLS and feels we didn't even get to see the best of him last year before the injury hit.
"I always was confident in myself," Kaye said. "I knew that if I got the opportunity to play in MLS I would show people that I should have been in the league a while ago. I just went in with an open mind and just listened to the coaches and worked really hard. Everything they had taught me paid off because I was doing it on the field.
"I might have surprised some people, but I didn't really surprise myself. I think I could have had a better season for the half of the season I was in. I think I could have got more goals and more assists. I definitely want to build on that."
After reestablishing himself on club level, this week the focus for Kaye is getting back into mix for the Canadian national team, and adding to the six caps he already has under his belt as they get set to face French Guiana on Sunday in their final Concacaf Nations League qualifier (6 pm ET | TSN2).
At 24 years old, Kaye projects to be a stalwart for Canada in the coming years, as they look to fulfill the promise their exciting group of young players has raised.
"It's taken us a while as a national team to get to this level," Kaye mused. "There's been a lot of moving pieces in previous years, so it's hard to create that culture when there's so many guys coming in and out. Right now we're in a good spot where we have 30 to 35 guys who have bought in to what we want to do.
"It's very exciting also because we have a lot of young, talented players right now. It's the most talented crop that Canada's had in a long time and I'm very fortunate to be part of it. It puts us in a pressurized situation because people now depend on us to get results but I think we'll rise to the occasion and everyone wants to have that responsibility of being this team that Canada hasn't seen before."