On a rainy night on October 8 at Zions Bank Stadium, Real Monarchs made a substitution in the 61st minute, pulling former U.S. Men’s National Team striker Bobby Wood from the field. On a normal evening that would have been the storyline. A former National Team caliber player working back to full fitness in the USL Championship before joining Real Salt Lake.
But in the moments that followed, the referee signaled for Wood to exit the pitch and a global media frenzy followed and 13-year-old Axel Kei was welcomed into the world of professional sports.
At just 13 years, 9 months and 9 days, Kei made history as the youngest individual, male or female, to ever appear for an American professional sports team and simultaneously broke the USL Championship record previously held by Phoenix Rising forward Ansuh Kanneh, who made his debut at the age of 14 and shattering records set across all of sports.
By comparison, Freddy Adu made history as the youngest in Major League Soccer at the age of 14, while no one younger than 15 has ever appeared in a match with one of Europe's “Big Five Leagues,” including the Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1, the Premier League and Serie A. Not to mention no one in American baseball, basketball, football or hockey has come close to the record set by Kei.
Kei was born in the Ivory Coast and raised in Brazil where his dad played soccer professionally before moving his family to San Diego, California in 2017. In the Golden State he began playing with the LA Galaxy San Diego Youth Soccer Club, which is where he garnered the attention of Real Salt Lake.
In 2020 Kei joined the Real Salt Lake Academy in Herriman as part of the U15 squad, but as a result of his progression he spent much of last year at the U17 and U19 levels.
This past summer, Kei rejoined RSL U15s for the MLS NEXT Cup and took the tournament by storm, scoring five goals on his way to the tournament’s Golden Boot while also helping the team hoist the inaugural championship trophy. So far this season, the forward has been playing at the U17 level and has scored six goals in six games in MLS NEXT play.
Kei also spent the majority of the past few months training with Real Monarchs before making his official debut last Friday. Reflecting on the feat, Kei was coy about the accomplishment as he sets his sights on a grander goal.
"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.”