Kemar Lawrence will start the Concacaf Champions League on the Red Bulls bench. (Photo courtesy of MLS)

By Michael Lewis
FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Kemar Lawrence is healthy and ready to play, except that he can’t go 90 minutes just yet.

So, when the Red Bulls lineup for their Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 first leg match against Atletico Pantoja Wednesday night, the Jamaican international left back will be on the bench at Felix Sanchez Stadium in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Lawrence suffered an MCL injury during practice prior to the Red Bulls’ second leg of their Major League Soccer Playoffs Eastern Conference semifinal series in November. New York lost that match, 3-0, and was eliminated from the postseason.

“He’s strong, he’s healthy, he’s tackling,” Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas said during a media conference call from Santo Domingo Tuesday afternoon.

“Kemar’s back. We’re just managing workloads and bringing him the right way from a fitness standpoint and then thinking about the big picture that we don’t want to push him too fast into 90 minutes. So Kemar’s ready to go.”

Regarded as the best left back in MLS, Lawrence was named to the league’s Best XI in 2018.

Armas said Lawrence will be used off the bench vs. Atletico Pantoja.

“He will be getting some starts in the very near future,” he said. “The field conditions has nothing to do with the decision.”

Field conditions in the Caribbean and in many Concacaf countries can vary from adequate to barely playable to poor.

A typical recovery time for an MCL injury is eight to 10 weeks, Armas said.

“You can’t speed it up,” he added. “It takes time. That has come together nicely that has not required surgery. It just needed time to strengthen, to come together.”

Wednesday’s 8 p.m. game will be available at www.YahooSports.com.

The second leg is set for Red Bull Arena Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 8 p.m.