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2022 Season Review: Mark-Anthony Kaye

The Rapids sold the Canadian International on a high after the club fell down the table.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This is part of a series of individual player reviews by Joseph Samelson. You can follow him on Twitter @jspsam and read his work elsewhere at josephsamelson.com.

Role: Central Midfielder

Squad Status: Departed

Season in a Sentence: Kaye struggled to fit into Robin Fraser’s tactical scheme, and the Rapids sold the Canadian International on a high after the club fell down the table.

Grade: C+

When the Colorado Rapids signed Mark-Anthony Kaye to a four-year contract extension in mid-January, it looked as if the Canadian International would become a centerpiece in the club’s midfield for years to come. The Rapids had just shipped Kellyn Acosta to Los Angeles FC after contract negotiations between the two parties stalled, and the club intended to commit to a Kaye and Jack Price midfield duo for the 2022 season.

“Mark has been one of the top central midfielders in MLS since he first joined the league and has continued to demonstrate his quality during his time with us,” Colorado General Manager Pádraig Smith at the time. “We’re delighted to secure his future in Burgundy and are excited to see the heights he can help the club reach in the coming years.”

Kaye had just joined the club midway through the 2021 season, but Colorado’s crowded midfield corps had pushed the natural box-to-box midfielder into attacking roles down the final stretch of the Rapids’ record-breaking year. The Canadian failed to set MLS alight during his minutes as a winger or creative playmaker, and Kaye only scored one goal as a wide forward when the club topped the West.

But Colorado’s decision to sell Acosta to LAFC and loan Cole Bassett to Feyenoord left Kaye as the team’s obvious first-choice option to sit next to Price in the middle. It looked like a formidable pairing on paper—Price’s ability in distribution should have meshed well with Kaye’s ability to make key interceptions, spring counters, and move the ball forward.

So what went wrong?

While Price tried to unlock opportunities for Colorado’s wingers with well-timed switches, Kaye was tasked with moving possession forward centrally for the club and primarily played as a jack-of-all-trades box-to-box midfielder in the space ahead of the captain. Despite a strong connection and familiarity with his teammates, that tactic didn’t pan out according to plan. Kaye’s consistent turnovers (2.64 miscontrols per 90, 11th percentile; 0.94 times dispossessed per 90, 41st percentile) meant that Colorado couldn’t keep hold of the ball in and around Zone 14, which forced the club to exclusively look for opportunities along the flanks (before Zardes joined the team).

The Rapids’ opponents began adjusting their tactical approach to stifle Colorado’s wingers after recognizing the weakness, and Kaye’s effectiveness dwindled further. While he still did well to win possession by recording 4.15 combined tackles and interceptions per 90 (88th percentile), the Rapids largely struggled to translate those moments into threatening play in the final third. Kaye finished the year below the 50th percentile among MLS midfielders in most major creative metrics, including key passes (0.85 per 90, 46th percentile), passes into the final third (4.06 per 90, 48th percentile), and shot-creating actions (2.12 per 90, 43rd percentile).

Fraser tried moving the Canadian International elsewhere in the midfield, but the same trends persisted. Kaye should have been an effective partner for Price, but the Canadian wasn’t consistent in delivering line-breaking passes or connecting with his teammates. While his managers have historically played him as a box-to-box midfielder in MLS, the data trends indicate that he would have been better deployed as a straightforward ball-winner.

Looking Forward

When Toronto FC offered the kitchen sink for Kaye during the Secondary Transfer Window—youngster Ralph Priso, over $1 million in General Allocation Money, a 2023 international roster slot, and a first-round draft pick—Colorado took the money and ran. The decision was well-timed, too: Kaye sustained a lower body injury three matches after he made his TFC debut, and he finished the year with only one goal contribution across 628 total minutes for his new club.

But the Rapids got even fewer minutes from Priso, and the Canadian Youth International failed to win a starting role over fellow mid-season acquisition Felipe Gutiérrez. While Colorado probably won the trade on paper in the sense that Toronto overpaid to acquire Kaye, the Rapids failed to benefit when the Front Office didn’t reinvest the profits into the first team before the window closed. They might have gotten away with that had Price not gone down with multiple injuries of his own, but the Englishman missed 13 of Colorado’s final 17 matches after the Kaye trade, and the team failed to push into the playoffs.

Given Bryan Acosta’s struggles, Gutiérrez’s uncertain contract situation, and Bassett’s return, it’s not clear who will serve as the bridge between Price and Diego Rubio in Colorado’s midfield during 2023. The future of the club’s midfield trio could get even cloudier if the Rapids fail to re-sign or replace Gyasi Zardes—a move which would likely see Rubio return to a center forward role.

Stats via FBref.