Vancouver, BC- In a league that features big-name international players, multi-million dollar contracts and some of the wealthiest owners, Major League Soccer has not often been a haven for graduated U SPORTS soccer talent.
However, this is no normal year. MLS has returned with the aptly named MLS is Back Tournament and the competition has given a number of U SPORTS alumni a chance.
Former York University Lion, Mark-Anthony Kaye has already shown his worth to MLS faithful, but newcomers to the league such as Joel Waterman and Patrick Metcalfe are yet to garner much attention. With U SPORTS talent on LAFC, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact, the MLS is Back Tournament has given university soccer fans some storylines to follow.
Each team mentioned has played three games in the tournament, completing the round-robin portion of the competition, and all are moving onto the Round of 16, the first set of knockout matches.
Mark-Anthony Kaye: LAFC/York Lions (2 starts, 1 goal)
Over the last three seasons, Mark-Anthony Kaye has cemented himself as one of the most important players in Canadian soccer, as well as in the midfield of LAFC. The former York Lion helped the L.A. club to the regular-season championship in 2019, and his presence is continuing to be felt at the MLS is Back Tournament.
LAFC has become known as one of MLS’ high-flying offensive clubs, and that has not stopped at the one-off tournament. Through three group stage matches, LAFC has scored 11 goals, one of the highest tallies in the tournament.
Kaye started both LAFC’s first and final group stage matches, sitting out of his club’s barn-burning 6-2 victory over rivals LA Galaxy.
In the first match, a sloppy 3-3 draw with the Houston Dynamo, Kaye didn’t get on the scoresheet, but he was crucial to the offensive transition of LAFC.
Stats tracked by “WhoScored,” a soccer analytics company, list Kaye with the second-most passes on his team, with nearly half of them advancing the ball into offensive areas. In the heatmap below, it is easy to see where Kaye settled into the match, and where he proved his value in the six-goal thriller.
Comparing his contributions in the first match, to the second, there is not much difference, other than that he got himself a goal. Consistency has been one of the things that have made Kaye an attractive player, and he’s continued that trend in the tournament. Despite the goal, Kaye’s presence was far-less felt offensively, but he was much more aware of the defensive side of the ball. Through his 79 minutes of action, the Canadian had 14 interceptions, the most of any on his team.
Mark-Anthony Kaye is one of the great success stories of U SPORTS soccer and has already had one of the best careers post-U SPORTS. His LAFC side takes on defending MLS Cup champions, the Seattle Sounders on July 27.
Patrick Metcalfe: Vancouver Whitecaps FC/ UBC Thunderbirds (1 substitute appearance)
If the Vancouver Whitecaps had their full complement of players in Orlando, Patrick Metcalfe likely would not have made his professional debut. With five players opting to stay in Vancouver, it meant that the former Thunderbird travelled to Disneyworld, where his professional dream finally came true.
Metcalfe did not do too much in his appearance but was partly at fault on San Jose’s fourth, eventual winning goal. The youngster couldn’t have done much other than committing a foul, but he kept pace with Earthquakes midfielder Shea Salinas, before Salinas broke free to win the game for San Jose.
With one touch of the ball and a faulty defensive situation, it was far from the ideal debut for Metcalf. However, now that Vancouver has advanced to the knockout stage, that performance falls into memory, as the Whitecaps attempt to progress towards MLS is Back glory.
Patrick Metcalfe and the Whitecaps face Sporting Kansas City, a team that beat them back in March, in the Round of 16 on July 23.
Joel Waterman: Montreal Impact/ Trinity Western Spartans (Has not played)
Signed in the off-season from the Canadian Premier League’s Cavalry FC, Joel Waterman wasn’t expected to make much of an immediate impact with the Montreal defence. He started the side’s CONCACAF Champions League ties ahead of the MLS regular season, but has not played at the MLS is Back tournament.
The former Trinity Western Spartan sat out of the first match due to an undisclosed injury but rejoined his Montreal teammates on the gameday roster for the final two matches in the group. There is no word as to when Waterman will hit the field, but the Montreal is set to take on tournament hosts Orlando City in the first match of the knockout stages.