Kemar Lawrence was the best player on the field for the Red Bulls Saturday night. (Chris Bergmann /USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — Kemar Lawrence has taken the anger he has felt since the end of March and taken it out on the rest of Major League Soccer.
He has turned that negative energy into a positive force for the Red Bulls as he continues to mourn the death of his grandmother, Norma Seymour.
“I have so much anger lately,” said Lawrence, who set up the Red Bulls’ winning goal in their 2-1 win over the New England Revolution at Red Bull Arena Saturday night. “I just have to come on game days and express it on the field. Game days you get away from all of that.”
Lawrence called Seymour, who was 60, his best friend.
“You can never just put it away,” he said. “My grandma was my rock, my best friend. She was a person I spoke about every day, I spoke to every day. It’s weird some days that she’s just not around.
“Every day I miss her. There still is a space in my life. Glory be the God, I pray every day and I just ask God to fill that spot with some joy for me. Every day it gets easier and easier.”
Lawrence certainly did not make it easy on the Revs. He was one-way wrecking crew on both ends of the field. When he wasn’t dashing down the left flank sending crosses into the area, he was running down the likes of Kei Kamara, making sure he and his teammates were not going to get close to a dangerous scoring position.
Little doubt as to who the best Red Bull on the field was.
“I think Kemar has been if not our best player then one of our best players this year,” head coach Jesse Marsch said. “He started out slow, had a couple personal things he had to fight through with his family. But, my gosh, he’s playing the best he’s ever played. It’s just a series of consecutive games that he takes care of things defensively first, then finds a way to be dangerous in the attack and make some plays. It’s great to see.”
Ditto for Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scored the first goal in the 47th minute to equalize the match at 1-1.
“Kemar for the last six weeks has been easily our best player, even when we’ve lost,” he said. “The guy has been like possessed. He’s very hard to deal with, and not just going forward. In the back, his recovery tackles, everything. He’s been very good, very good.”
Lawrence? He wasn’t so sure. “I am trying to be in the right places at the right time,” he said. “I’m trying to be that player on the team that they can count on in all moment. That means in all my individual battles I have to do that, in the right spots making recovery runs, I just want to be that player.”
The 24-year-old left back was here, there and just about everywhere for the Red Bulls Saturday night.
He gets paid first for his defense, which is something he loves to play, believe it or not.
“It’s just natural for me,” Lawrence said. “Ever since growing up, it’s just natural. Even some days when he [Marsch] puts me at center back, it’s just a complete different joy. Tackle Brad, tackle Sacha [Kljestan]. You can see the difference sometime when I am going forward and when I’m defending. It’s like a joy. I know I’m going to make a tackle. I know I’m going to make a play. I know I’m going to be in the right place at the right time. It’s just natural.”
For some reason, the Revs could not contain Lawrence on the left wing. He owned it. So when push came to shove in the 74th minute, the Jamaican international took advantage of it, launched a hard low cross past BWP at the left post to the Daniel Royer at the right post. An unmarked Royer slotted it home with his left foot from six yards to snap a 1-1 deadlock and scored the goal that secured a 2-1 win.
“It’s the way we train,” Lawrence said. “Get the ball in the right spot. That’s where the keeper can’t touch it and where the defender probably puts it in their own goal. I’m just trying to trying to get the ball in that spot. I’m basically hoping that the runners are making the run. Great goal by Danny.”
Given his fabulous form, Lawrence probably will be gone from the Red Bulls for a minimum of three weeks, perhaps more, when Jamaica performs in the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer.
“I’m trying to make it to the finals and win this time,” he said of the Reggae Boyz, who wound up runner-up to Mexico in 2015. “I’m away as long as possible.”
Lawerence then laughed.
“You want to go to the Gold Cup,” he said. “We have a game coming up against Peru. Definitely want to join the lads and play that game.”
These days, Kemar Lawrence is having a lot of joy playing the beautiful game, playing for his grandmother, his team and himself.