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‘It’s personal:’ Red Bulls’ Kemar Lawrence pumped to face FC Cincinnati’s Darren Mattocks

Jul 25, 2018; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United forward Darren Mattocks (11) and New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence (92) leap to head the ball in the first half at Audi Field. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

If Kemar Lawrence steps on the field Saturday night against FC Cincinnati, there’s one specific challenge the New York Red Bulls left back can’t wait to face.

And forward Darren Mattocks is a challenge Lawrence, a fellow Reggae Boyz teammate, is very familiar with as well.

“When we meet, it’s something more personal. It’s kind of a bragging rights thing,” Lawrence said after training Thursday. “When we get to national team camp, you want to say you beat that Darren Mattocks, Alvas Powell, [Andre] Blake, whoever it is you’re facing on the day. You need those bragging rights before you get to camp.”

Mattocks has one goal for the MLS expansion side — in a 1-1 draw against Sporting Kansas City — in four consecutive starts. Lawrence said the 28-year-old forward needs to be playing regularly to get into a rhythm. And that makes the challenge even greater come Saturday night.

“You’re going to get that guy who is going to try his best to score, he’s going to always be running, always be pressuring the defenders,” Lawrence said.

Mattocks had a hot start to his 2018 season with eight goals in the first half of the season fo D.C. United. But when the Black-and-Red made a splash to obtain Wayne Rooney, a move that relegated Mattocks to the bench, he had just two more goals the rest of the way.

“He’s a really good player. If you watch him closely, if he gets chances, he’s going to always finish,” Lawrence said. “He’s very explosive, but at the same time, he’s a guy that has to get playing time. If he’s in and out, sometimes it curbs his performance. I’ve been watching him this season and some games he starts, some games he’s on the bench. He’s a guy that likes to keep it consistent starting.”

Mattocks embraced the move to FC Cincinnati, which selected him No. 1 overall in the 2019 MLS Expansion Draft for exactly the reason Lawrence pointed out. He came off the substitute’s bench in FC Cincy’s first three games — picking up an assist, but failing to register a start in those combined 106 minutes.

But since making his first start on March 30 against the Philadelphia Union, a move that coincided with Fanendo Adi’s suspension by MLS for a citation for impaired driving, Mattocks has a goal, while putting four of his nine shots on frame.

Adi was reinstated by the league on Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

While Lawrence relishes any chance to meet a Jamaican national teammate, the 26-year-old just wants to get back on the pitch and begin playing regularly. Brought along slowly at the start of the season following an MCL injury during the MLS Cup playoffs in November, Lawrence missed the last two games due to illness.

“I can’t wait, especially me being off the field for a long while,” Lawrence said. “I just want to be on the field, have some fun, just to run for a little bit and put some pressure on some people.and just try to get my team three points.”

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