HARRISON, N.J. — Even back at the team’s media day, a full three months before the New York Red Bulls’ first regular season meeting with Atlanta United, Kemar Lawrence was salivating for a shot at redemption.
“I can’t wait to meet Atlanta again,” he told Pro Soccer USA on that late February afternoon at Red Bull Arena. “I literally can’t wait to meet them.”
The Jamaican international needs to wait no longer with the Red Bulls hosting Atlanta Sunday afternoon for the first time since last season’s Eastern Conference Championship Series.
Everyone knows how that turned out, with Atlanta blasting the Red Bulls 3-0 in the first leg at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. New York took the second leg 1-0, but lost the aggregate series, 3-1. Instead of hosting MLS Cup at Red Bull Arena, it was Atlanta hoisting the cup in front of a record crowd at the Benz after beating the Portland Timbers.
Through it all, Lawrence was a frustrated bystander, forced to watch the two-legged series after suffering an MCL injury in training leading up to the games.
“It’s heartbreaking just the way it happened, the time that it happened,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence knows nothing good comes from second guessing, but he still wonders what if? What if he didn’t go to Montego Bay and play 90 minutes for Jamaica in a Concacaf Nations League qualifier against Suriname on November 17? Would that have taken some stress off his knee and, perhaps have meant he’d be fully fit to face Atlanta?
“Part of it is, I went to Jamaica, went to play a game and then came back,” he said. “Maybe if I didn’t go for that game, that’s something else to think about. But I’m definitely hungry. I definitely have a lot to prove. I definitely have a lot to prove with the team and in the team, too.”
And the left back, who has had a slow start to the 2019 season as a result of his recovery from that injury — he’s featured in just five regular season games, starting four — knows he can have an impact against Atlanta. It was true in both regular season wins a year ago, which helped the Red Bulls overcome the Five Stripes to win a third Supporters’ Shield title in six years.
He knew the impact he would have made in the playoffs, which added to his frustration.
“I probably knew every move that any outside winger they had was going to make,” Lawrence said. “I was just sitting at home talking to my TV that night literally because I was that hungry for the game. But sometime God gives, and takes, and sometimes you don’t know the reason why. It was a sad moment.”