ORLANDO, Fla. — As Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake and New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence rode the MLS All-Star bus to training Monday, they discussed how big it is for two Jamaicans to be among the league’s elite.
“It should motivate the kids back there to help them to believe the sky is the limit,” Blake told Pro Soccer USA. “And they just have to keep working hard, worry about nothing and everything will take care of itself.”
Blake and Lawrence headline a growing list of Jamaican players in MLS that includes FC Cincinnati’s trio of Alvas Powell, Darren Mattocks and Rashawn Daily, Los Angeles FC’s Peter-Lee Vassell and Columbus Crew’s Romario Williams.
“The whole fact that a lot of us play in MLS and are so close to home, I feel like the fans are more in tune and watching us while we play here,” Lawrence told Pro Soccer USA. “They are more focused. It’s not only the English Premier League or the Spanish league because in our country, we’re a European, English-based country so a lot of people there watch that, but it’s shifting to MLS.”
Wednesday’s game at Exploria Stadium, which pits the MLS All-Stars against Atletico Madrid, marks the first time two Jamaicans will participate in the MLS All-Star Game. Blake is also the first two-time All-Star from the Caribbean nation.
The All-Star recognition is just the latest honor bestowed upon the pair. Blake was the 2016 Goalkeeper of the Year and Lawrence was named to the 2018 Best XI.
Lawrence is making his first All-Star appearance and is the lone Red Bulls representative, just like Blake is for the Union.
“I feel like all of (the Jamaican players) want to reach this point, but it takes a lot of work,” Lawrence said. “Sometimes you have to search for advice from different people, different players. Sometimes it’s not only the work. It comes with a mental aspect of it where you have to be mentally tough and how to bring your best game in a different environment, even when you’re not as comfortable at a club that you’re at, or whatever situation you are in.”
Blake and Lawrence talk on a constant basis and both know the sky is the limit for Jamaican players if they use them as an example for where hard work can take them.
“It definitely brings a lot of inspiration,” Blake said. “Even those who did not believe are starting to believe right now. That’s always a good thing for me. I always want to inspire youths, to have them believe in their dreams and believe that anything is possible. For me and him, it’s definitely a big thing. We have to keep going and keep knowing that the sky is the limit and understand there are always younger generations that are looking up to us.”
“This is the kind of stuff me and ‘Dre tend to talk about when we see the guys sometimes,” Lawrence said. “We tell them you have to be comfortable in any situation. You have to bring your ‘A’ game, and wherever you are, you have to be at your best.”
“This is what is going to help you make the Best XI or All-Star Team,” Lawrence said. “This is my first time being here and it’s something that I wanted to accomplish. It’s something that I prayed for. To get this opportunity is just tremendous.”
While putting two players in the All-Star Game is a great achievement, Blake and Lawrence have lofty goals when it comes to club and country.
The Reggae Boyz have advanced to a pair of Gold Cup finals and made the final four in the last three tournaments, but are still waiting to take the next step in Concacaf, and the pair of MLS All-Stars are leading the charge.
“Everybody is really happy,” Lawrence said. “I can’t really deny that. They are still trying to encourage us, but there is still a little bit missing that we need to figure out because that final step we’re still not making it. In the last three Gold Cups, we’ve been to two finals, one semifinal. That’s not what we want to do. We don’t want to just be at the final or semifinal, we want to start to win, or start to be in the final and perform at such a high level that everybody is left amazed.”