Not even a season-ending injury could dim the bright future of LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye.
After three seasons in the USL, the 24-year-old wasted no time acclimating himself to top-flight football. In 20 matches for LAFC in 2018, Kaye scored twice and dished out five assists. A fixture in the middle of the pitch before the injury, Kaye displayed exceptional range in all phases of play and proved coachable by his weekly improvements on the ball.
On Monday, Kaye signed a three-year contract extension, tying him to the Club until 2021. He took a moment before his rehab session at the LAFC Performance Center to speak about the extension, his future goals and how he is progressing before the start of preseason training in January.
What were the contract talks like?
"I found out maybe sometime in October that the team wanted to re-sign me past the end of obviously next year when my contract would expire. It was a good feeling to be wanted, especially considering that I was injured and just came back from surgery. It was nice to have that on the mental side of it. But yeah, it took about a month to month and a half to agree on terms. [The Club] expressed the desire in wanting me to be here, and if I was going to be here for another three years, I wanted to be able to be comfortable in my contract situation. Just like any player would. So it was done well and correctly, and I’m just happy it’s done now."
What were your emotions like once the extension was signed?
"When I first thought about the whole idea of re-signing it was a big relief. Now that it’s done, it’s nice and everything but now I just want to get back on the field and start playing and work my way up. I’m never really satisfied. It’s all well and nice right now because this is a great Club I want to be a part of and I want to win something here. But as a player, you have your own personal goals, too. And it’s a good thing. I have to be realistic and look at it from a standpoint that I’ve come a long way, especially being in the USL for three years, but, like I said, I’m never satisfied. I always want to get to the next level whether that’s the next level with the Club, becoming a bigger player within the franchise, or even just seeing options in Europe or something like that."
Did the Club express its vision for your role going forward?
"We haven’t really spoken on the positional side of it. Obviously, I’ll have a talk with Bob [Bradley] come preseason just to understand exactly what he wants from me for next year. And honestly, we’re just building off of last year. But in that sense, the Club has told me they feel that I’m an important part and that they’re trying to build something special and they want me to be a part of that as a building block. Which is nice to hear. But at the end of the day, they’re always going to bring players to try to strengthen the team and it’s my job to try to keep my spot. But first of all, right now it’s my job to earn my spot back because I’ve been out for so long. But they’ve stressed the importance of having me here, which is nice, and I just want to repay them and repay the fans by performing well."
What has the fan response been like?
"It’s great. They’ve always shown me support since the beginning, especially when I went through the injury. You see in a lot of sports when players get injured, they just fall off. No one really sees them, they don’t hear from them until they get back. It was really nice to stay in the forefront and still feel valued even though I wasn’t playing or producing what I’m here for. The fans have always been great. They’ve always shown me a lot of support. Even when the announcement was made, it was just another great feeling to back up the reason why I wanted to be here at this Club and stay here for another three years."
Was your phone blowing up after the news broke?
"My phone definitely blew up. And it was weird because it was within like a day of my birthday, so it kind of never settled down until maybe yesterday. But it was still nice because people are just showing their appreciation for you. Like I said, when you have a big injury like this, to know everyone is still behind you is just massive, especially on the mental side, to get back to where you left off."
Does having this tied up give your rehab process a bit of a boost?
"I put it behind me now. I’m here to work and I don’t need to worry about that contract situation now. I can just focus on getting myself back to 100 percent. Players will say that stuff doesn’t affect them but you do think about it. It’s your life, right? So I think that when you’re able to settle that side of the game then it gives you a lot freedom to focus on what’s more important when it comes to getting back on the field and producing."
Where are you at in your rehab?
"I’m at the point where I feel like I am maybe 80 percent of what I am capable of. Maybe 75 percent. But I’m moving well now. I can sprint. I can dribble. I can shoot. I can pass. I can do pretty much everything. If someone wanted me to go into training the next day, I could do it. I could be a neutral, just because they are still worried about the contact aspect of it. Yeah, I’m at the stage now where I’m pretty much doing everything. Obviously, my ankle is still a little stiff now and then. That’s going to be normal for maybe the next couple of months. But the whole goal now is to make sure that when preseason comes I’m 100 percent. So, I think we’re on the right path to doing that. I’m at a stage now where I feel more mobile than I ever have before."
What are your on-field goals in your second MLS season?
"I just want to have a bigger, commanding presence on the field. I played a little naïve maybe sometimes during the season because I didn’t know how the league worked and how everything was at this level. Now that I am accustomed to it, I think I can put more of a big presence on the field with the team and just be a guy who demands more from his teammates and can also be a leader. There was a lot of good veteran players on the team last year, and I feel like going into next year I can be one of those players that people look up to in the locker room and also on the field to figure out situations. I kind of want to be the guy who when there’s a situation that needs to be handled, people look to me first. It’s going to be a big part for me next year. Hopefully, I can meet the expectations. But that’s something that I want it to be, ‘OK, it’s Mark-Anthony Kaye in the middle. He’s bossing the game.’ I don’t want to be just another ok Canadian player who is just kind of making it through the game without really making a presence. I want to be that bigger impact on the team."