Once deemed surplus to requirements by Toronto FC, midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye returned to the club Monday as a prized acquisition.
Toronto president Bill Manning, who was not with the MLS franchise when Kaye was released after playing for TFC II and III, welcomed the 27-year-old Canadian international back at a news conference following Friday’s trade with the Colorado Rapids.
While “super-excited” to be back and saying Toronto has “always been a club that’s been in my heart,” Kaye acknowledged that being let go by his hometown team was a turning point in his career.
He used it to fuel him, in a positive way.
“I saw a lot of my friends and former teammates that have gone through similar situations and they didn’t handle it the right way,” he said. “I used their experiences as a way to make sure I navigate mine in the right direction.
Kaye, who joined the Toronto academy in 2013 and played for TFC III in 2014 and TFC II in 2015, said he was not given a reason for his release.
“At the time I was playing left back. And everyone in the world knows I’m not a left back,” he said. “Apparently at the time people thought I was a left back.”
After leaving Toronto, Kaye signed with Louisville City FC in January 2016 and spent two seasons with the United Soccer League team.
“It definitely humbled me,” he said. “It made me more resilient, aggressive, relentless. I just had to fight for everything I could get. And it worked out, I came full circle. But that was an important moment in my career to go out, leave home and enter an uncomfortable situation and try to push myself.”
Toronto coach Bob Bradley, at the time in charge of expansion Los Angeles FC, liked what he saw of Kaye with Canada in a game against Costa Rica at the 2017 Gold Cup.
Bradley brought him in for LAFC’s inaugural 2018 season.
“It was revolutionary for me,” said Kaye. “I was coming out of the USL at the time, trying to establish myself within MLS. Bob really took me under his wing and was patient with me and really pushed me to understand the game in a better capacity.
“So I’m tremendously grateful for all of that. But I really enjoyed my football under him. We played some really good soccer at LAFC and I was able to excel and push forward in my career. So I’m grateful to be reunited with him. It’s a very crucial year for TFC and also the Canadian men’s national team.”
In 2019, Kaye was named to the MLS all-star game and helped LAFC to the Supporters’ Shield.
Bradley traded Kaye and a first-round pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft to Colorado in July 2021 in exchange for US$1-million in allocation money and a 2022 international roster spot.
A year later, Bradley gave up 19-year-old midfielder Ralph Priso, US$1.025-million in general allocation money, a 2023 international roster slot and a first-round pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft to get Kaye back.
Bradley declined to share specifics on why he traded Kaye to Colorado, saying “there were all sorts of different factors” involved.
“Sometimes as a team evolves, you have a couple of seasons together and then there’s a need for some change,” he said. “And the change sets up possibilities moving forward.”
In January 2022, the Rapids rewarded Kaye with a four-year contract extension through the 2025 season with a club option for an additional year. Kaye is making US$700,000 this season, according to figures released in April by the MLS Players Association.
Kaye said he had not expected the Toronto trade, saying the move happened quickly.
The acquisition means Bradley will be able to field an impressive midfield three in Kaye, fellow Canadian international Jonathan Osorio and captain Michael Bradley, Bob’s son.
“I’m excited,” said Kaye. “Two very, very, very good midfielders.”
Osorio welcomes the reunion.
“For me personally, [it’s] amazing,” he said. “And I think for the club, it’s amazing as well. A player of his characteristics is something that the team needs and I think he’ll contribute right away.”
Canada coach John Herdman will no doubt relish having Kaye and Osorio continue to forge their on-field partnership ahead of the World Cup in Qatar in November. Kaye has won 35 caps for Canada and has been a constant of late, playing in 16 of Canada’s 19 matches in 2021 and five of eight this year.
Kaye may have to wait to start his second go-round with Toronto, however. Bob Bradley said he was questionable for Wednesday’s game in Chicago due to “a little tightness” in his glute/hamstring.
“Things are feeling better than they were yesterday,” said Kaye. “I will get reassessed again tomorrow [Tuesday] to see what it looks like for Wednesday. But there’s no certain timetable right now.”
Kaye, who was accompanied by wife Rachel at Monday’s news conference, will wear No. 8 for Toronto, a number that has been worn previously by Priso, Marky Delgado and Benoit Cheyrou among others. His normal No. 14 belongs to midfielder Noble Okello.
Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, whose Toronto debut has been pushed back to later this month due to a calf injury, ran on his own at the team’s training ground Monday.
“It’s a good sign,” said Bradley, who has targeted the July 23 home game against Charlotte FC for Insigne’s debut. “He’s responded well to the work inside [the training centre] and I think today he’s moving a little bit better.”
There was no update on star centre back Carlos Salcedo, who is expected to join a club in Mexico to be closer to his family. Salcedo, the highest-paid defender in MLS at US$2.35-million this season, has been shuttling back and forth to Mexico to attend to his wife who gave birth last month.