Real Salt Lake academy forward Axel Kei made history recently as the youngest-ever player to make a professional appearance for an American sports team.
Aged just 13 years, nine months and nine days old, Kei entered the field in the 61st minute of Real Monarchs’ (RSL’s USL affiliate) 0-0 draw with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, replacing United States international striker Bobby Wood. A crowd just shy of 1,500 was in attendance for this historic moment.
“My dream was to play professionally as soon as possible, and now that I’ve done that my goal is to prove myself at the highest level, stay there and then make it into the starting lineup,” Kei said of his debut.
Incredibly, Kei has since broken another record. In January, at 14 years and 15 days old, he was given his first homegrown contract by Real Salt Lake making him the youngest player in MLS history – a record previously held by Freddy Adu (14 years, 168 days).
So, here are five things you should know about Kei ahead of what could be a meteoric rise in the game.
Born in the Ivory Coast on 30th December, 2007, Kei was raised in Brazil before finally arriving in the United States four years ago, moving to San Diego. Kei joined up with RSL as part of their residency academy in 2020.
Kei is the oldest of three siblings, with his sister 10 years of age, while he also has a three-year-old brother. Kei already stands at a massive 6’1, while his sister is 5’10.
Real Salt Lake described Kei’s entire family to 90min as “super tall”.
Little is publicly known about Kei’s family with the youngster keeping his private life just that, private.
But RSL did confirm to 90min that his father played soccer professionally in Brazil, so it’s easy to see where he gets his talent from.
On the pitch, Kei is best described as strong, terrifyingly fast and extremely skilful. It’ll come as little surprise, then, that he names Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku and PSG star Kylian Mbappe as his favourite players.
Kei is seen as a blend of the two styles of play and the inspiration he has taken from both is clear to see.
Kei hit the ground running quickly after joining RSL and soon found himself playing among their U-17 and U-19 teams. However, during the MLS NEXT Cup, he rejoined the U-15s and put in a truly dominant performance, scoring five goals to win the Golden Boot as RSL emerged victorious at that age group.
Since then, Kei has been back with the U-17s where he has scored six goals in six games at the MLS NEXT level.