The walk from the dressing room to the pitch at the LAFC Performance Center is a short one, but by no means is it a garden-variety stroll. Players walk down a tunnel crafted from a gold shipping container. They emerge from the darkened hallway into the light of a perfectly groomed pitch. It’s both a stunning visual and a reminder: When you leave this tunnel, it’s time to work.
For the six months Mark-Anthony Kaye spent rehabbing a season-ending injury, that walk became a reminder of a different sort.
“Even when I was still here every day, and I was injured, the walk was different. You’re walking and you’re halting once you get to the grass,” Kaye said of his time at the Performance Center after the injury. “You don’t continue onto the field.”
One hundred and seventy-nine days elapsed between the last time Kaye took the field with his teammates and the start of LAFC’s preseason in 2019. During the layoff, the midfielder found it wasn’t just his physical limitations that were a challenge.
“When you’re out for so long after having soccer being everything, and just always being around it so much, when you don’t have it, you start to think about other things in life that are important,” Kaye said. “Whether it’s just being healthy or continuing your education or looking forward to the future without soccer. Those things obviously creep into your mind, but you don’t want to stray too far away from it because once you get back to the game, you want to have that same passion and drive going forward.”
In light of the obstacles, Kaye leaned on LAFC’s performance staff to get his body ready. While his teammates kept his mind focused.
“Sometimes you’re doing the same thing, it’s repetitive and boring when you’re injured. If you have guys boosting you up, it gives you the little extra motivation you need to get through that week or get through the month,” Steven Beitashour said of the time he spent with Kaye during the offseason. “He was great the whole time. He was in here and I was watching him, every time I tried to talk to him to encourage him. Because he was just working his butt off and I can’t wait for the season to start. He’s going to be good.”
Kaye returned to full training with his teammates on the first day of preseason. He’s unsure whether he’ll play a part in LAFC’s first preseason friendly on Sunday against Toronto, but there are no restrictions in place for him at this time.
Actually being back on the pitch with his teammates has been the biggest boost since he was cleared to play a few weeks back. And that walk to the training pitch has taken on new significance once more. But he knows the first time he takes the pitch at Banc of California Stadium will be yet another milestone in his recovery.
“It’ll be emotionally for sure. It’s definitely going to be a big moment. I think our fans are always up for the support for our players. I think that they are going to have nice praise for me once I get in there,” Kaye said. “I am hoping it’s going to be Sunday or next week against [Vissel Kobe]. Hopefully, that’s the first game that I can get in at Banc of California Stadium, so I don’t really have to wait until everything is on the line in the first game of the season.
“I’m excited for it and I hope it’s a good turnout.”