The FIFA World Cup brings together the world’s greatest soccer players.
Each player has his own story of how he got to this moment, but few have a journey as unique as Canada’s Mark-Anthony Kaye.
Currently a midfielder for Toronto FC in Major League Soccer, the 27-year-old Kaye will make his World Cup debut for Canada this November as his home nation makes its first appearance in the tournament since 1986.
There’s more to Kaye than just soccer though, as he detailed on NBC LX’s “My New Favorite Futbolista” podcast. Let’s see what makes him such a notable figure in the upcoming World Cup:
Raised by a single mother in Canada
Mark-Anthony Kaye didn’t have it all growing up. In fact, life in Toronto was often a challenge for Mark-Anthony and his mother Novelette.
Novelette was an immigrant from Jamaica living in Canada’s most expensive city. She raised Mark-Anthony and his twin brothers of five years younger as a single parent. But she never made excuses – and she instilled that mindset in her children.
“It wasn't easy raising him as a single mom, not because of him, because he's a wonderful, lovable child,” Novelette said on the “My New Favorite Futbolista” podcast. “Everybody says ‘Oh, we have no idea how you did all of that all by yourself.’ But I'm strong. I'm strong, I'm determined. And so is Mark-Anthony. And he's a very determined boy.”
Novelette saw something special in her son before he ever stepped foot on the playing field. More than just an athlete, Mark-Anthony showed early in his life that he was a caring person – whether it was with his mother, his brothers or even total strangers.
“If somebody was crying, he would go over to make sure that they were OK and give a little hug and stuff like that,” Novelette said. “And he was good with his brothers. He was really good with his brothers as well.”
If she was going to raise three sons alone, Novelette knew she needed more money to support her family. When the boys were young, she enrolled at York University in Toronto to pursue a master’s degree in childhood education.
In addition to her classes, Novelette worked multiple jobs; a cashier at a Tim Horton’s and a caterer at a Marriott. Her friends would help watch Mark-Anthony and his brothers.
Even as his mother worked non-stop throughout each day, Mark-Anthony didn’t realize what she was going through. He later learned how hard things were for him, which proved just how great Novelette was at being a mother. It was never about herself – it was always about her kids.
“It wasn't until I started to understand how the world worked, until I realized that my mom was dealing with some odds against her,” Mark-Anthony said. “But she did a really good job to make us not realize that.”
Introduction to soccer at age 9
Lots of kids start playing soccer when they’re just a little kid – maybe 5 or 6 years old. Kaye’s journey on the pitch began a little later, when he was 9 years old. At first, soccer was just a low-demand, extracurricular activity. But that quickly changed.
The Kayes took the bus to Mark-Anthony’s games, with Novelette lugging her twin strollers on and off the public transit vehicle.
When practices and games became more intense later in the season, Mark-Anthony was on his own. The 9-year-old would jump on the public bus by himself, with his mother never too far away. She would stay on the phone with him – a Nokia flip phone, to be exact – throughout the ride, while he did his homework and waited for his stop.
“She would always like to make sure I got on the right bus,” Mark-Anthony said. “It was this blue phone that only had, like, three buttons and you had to program the numbers in, because back then it was the early 2000s and that's what it was like.”
First job as a stock boy and cashier
Five years after first playing the sport he loved, Kaye’s soccer career nearly came to an end.
When Mark-Anthony turned 14 and the registration fees increased, Novelette didn’t have the money to cover it on her own. But her son was determined to play, no matter the price.
“I wrote my resume on a piece of lined paper,” Mark-Anthony explained. “So I brought my resume into this local drugstore, and then gave it to the manager.”
While his penmanship impressed the manager, it was his mother’s stature that secured the job for Mark-Anthony. She was well-known and respected in the community, so he was hired as a stock boy and cashier.
“I got a job and I was able to pay for my soccer that year, which was really cool,” Mark-Anthony said. “But again, stepping into the workforce made me understand how much sacrifice my mom had to make to make sure me and my brothers had the opportunities we did.”
Developing into a soccer star, moving to the U.S.
A year after getting his first job, Kaye was playing for the prestigious Ajax Soccer Club in Canada. In 2012, he enrolled at York University and scored 18 goals before joining TFC Academy – a natural step up for future Major League Soccer players.
Kaye moved to the U.S. in 2016, where he spent two years in Kentucky with Louisville City FC in the second-tier United Soccer League. He was transferred to the MLS in 2018, suiting up for Los Angeles FC in their inaugural season.
After four seasons in Los Angeles, Kaye was traded to the Colorado Rapids in 2021. He scored three goals in 17 games in 2022 before he was traded yet again. This time, he was coming home to Toronto FC.
Even with all his success on the big stage, Kaye still credits his mother for everything he has earned.
“I think just her relentlessness to continue to find work and make sure there is food on the table and we had clothes is definitely the biggest sacrifice she made because she had to do it by herself for three boys,” he said. “That's also one of the big reasons why I want to continue to be successful and have resources so that I can give her those experiences that she wanted and gave up for us.”
Leaving a legacy on and off the pitch
Kaye only spent one year in Colorado, but it was perhaps the most impactful stop of his career.
Since becoming a professional soccer player, Kaye’s focus has been on a goal greater than just putting the ball in the back of the net. He wants to make life better for single-parent families across the world.
In 2021 while playing for the Rapids, Kaye partnered with Engage and Single Mothers Outreach, a charity that provides support and resources to single mothers in Southern California. The organization helps more than 400 single parents per year with hotel vouchers, therapy, job placement and more.
“I felt like starting with a single mothers charity was definitely the right way to go about it and it was really authentic to me,” Kaye said.
When his mother found out what he was doing, she was moved to tears.
Together with Engage, Kaye helped raise $2,000 for the non-profit Single Mothers Outreach.
“Something that you can give for free is emotional support,” Kaye said. “And single parents, they go through a lot. They have to juggle a lot that was (meant to be) a two-person job parenting a family and kids. And imagine taking all those responsibilities and only putting it on one person.”
While being a professional athlete is great – and competing in the World Cup will be the honor of a lifetime – Kaye recognizes that there is life after soccer. Being more than just an athlete is what motivates him.
“I was looking forward to the future of what I wanted my legacy to be when I'm done with soccer .. When I have kids and grandkids and you know, you're sitting on that chair in your house and you have this big family tree underneath you and you're like, you know, what is something that you're going to be really proud of that you did?”