Chris Armas wasn’t part of the decision to bring Kemar Lawrence on trial from Harbour View FC before the start of the 2015 season, but the New York Red Bulls coach said it didn’t take very long to realize what made the Jamaican left back a special player.
“You could see he’s a real defender and he’s aggressive and he had personality,” Armas said after training on Tuesday. “He was a real guy. Jesse [Marsch] and Denis [Hamlett] and Ali Curtis, these guys saw something very positive in Kemar. It was easy to see early on that he’s going to be a guy that hopefully was around here for a long time. He fit in a good way.”
Lawrence will be around for at least a few more seasons, signing a multi-year contract the club announced Tuesday.
“It always feel really good to sign a contract, it helps to secure your future, but it also means right now it’s about really being settled down, winning some games and ultimately trying to win some titles right now,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence has been a regular starter since originally signing with the Red Bulls in March, 2015, starting 91 out of 93 regular season games and all seven playoff games.
“We like guys who love to defend first,” Armas said. “When you look how fast he is, how much pride he puts into defending, winning one-v-one battles and then you see the growth that he’s made understanding how to play with the back line and he’s challenged himself even to get forward more, he’s getting more assists in these last couple of years.”
As center back Aaron Long has gotten to know Lawrence over the last two years, he said he’s especially surprised at how quickly Lawrence is able to flip the switch, from off-the-field jokester to a fiery competitor between the lines.
“He’s a happy-go-lucky guy, he’s always smiling, always joking when you see him off the field,” said Long, who also re-signed with the club earlier this season. “But when he steps on the field, it’s war. He takes it very personal.”
Lawrence has also been a regular starter for the Jamaican national team with 45 starts in 47 appearances since making his debut at the 2013 Concacaf Gold Cup.
“I just think he’s a special talent, has a lot of personality, has given everything to this club in these years and you see he continues to do it,” Armas said. “He gets rewarded, we get rewarded to lock him in for a few years. We think he’s one of the best, if not the best, left back in the league.”
Lawrence has always had aspirations to play at the highest level, most notably the English Premier League. Those chances haven’t materialized yet, but Lawrence said those hopes don’t change even if he’s under contact for a few more years with the Red Bulls.
“You always want to reach for the stars or play in the best leagues in the world, which is probably England or Germany, but I feel like personally this doesn’t really change anything,” Lawrence said of his signing. “I feel like if I keep playing at a top level, keep being the best I possibly can be with the help of God and my teammates and coaches, I feel like then teams will take a look, teams will spend their money if they find you interesting.”