HANOVER, N.J. — Sitting in his New Jersey home a few weeks ago, the reality of what was in front of Kemar Lawrence in the Concacaf Gold Cup hit the New York Red Bulls left back like a ton of bricks.
“We’re going to host a game,’” the Jamaica international said to himself. “No other Caribbean team, or a lot of teams that’s in the Gold Cup, can really say that and we’re going to host one.”
That game happens tonight in Kingston when the Reggae Boyz meet Honduras in both team’s Group C opener at the National Stadium, better known as “The Office.”
Lawrence anticipates an emotional moment when “Jamaica, Land We Love” is played before kickoff.
“Maybe a little bit of tears,” he said. “For me it’s always special. I feel like when that anthem goes on, it’s just a moment for me to give thanks. Give thanks to God for letting me have that moment, coming back from injury and everything that I’ve been through, I just have to give thanks.”
Lawrence said the buzz in Jamaica about the first Gold Cup match played in the Caribbean has been happening for a few months. He can tell from all the ticket requests he’s received.
“If I show you my inbox right now, I’m like, I don’t own the stadium,” Lawrence told Pro Soccer USA. “You guys got to pay to come in if you really want to see me.”
The excitement isn’t reserved for the opening match. Expectations are sky high for a Jamaica team that reached the last two Gold Cup finals where they lost to Mexico and the United States.
With a strong core, including Lawrence, Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake and FC Cincinnati right back Alvas Powell, along with anticipation for 21-year-old Bayern Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey’s debut, Jamaica are expected to make a deep run.
“I feel like to be honest, we’re gonna make it to the final once again,” Lawrence said. “That’s my [prediction] is just for us to really accomplish what we really want to accomplish and that’s about winning it and I feel like that’s a mindset for every guy right now. I feel like everybody, we’ve been there two times, back-to-back, I feel like in everybody’s mind, we just want to win it. That’s the mindset, but we can’t really jump the gun, we still have to take one game.”
It’s also important to not look beyond the Gold Cup to 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification. But the defender known as “Taxi” believes a strong performance in the Gold Cup, perhaps even lifting the trophy on July 7 at Soldier Field, can help drive the Reggae Boyz in the right direction to a second-ever World Cup berth.
“I feel like that will be a huge confidence booster, just to prove that if we can accomplish that, we can really get to our main goal. But even if we don’t win the Gold Cup, I feel like the aim is still making it to the next World Cup.” Lawrence said. “We can’t miss out on that. It’s too big of an opportunity to miss out on.
“I talked to a lot of people and they have the same mindset, this is really preparation for that. We have to start to get things right before it gets to that point. We have to start winning more away games and when people come to Jamaica, we have to start winning all those games.”