Jamaica’s ‘Taxi’ Lawrence Drives To Soccer Success For Club, Country

Jamaica’s recent senior international soccer failures notwithstanding, Kemar “Taxi” Lawrence has emerged a Reggae Boyz star who has also shown for New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer (MLS), North America’s top competition. Lawrence discussed his rise with Caribbean Today’s Gordon Williams recently. The following is an edited version of that interview:

Lawrence Kemar actionQUESTION: 2015 you joined the Red Bulls and had an outstanding rookie season. How difficult was the transition to come into MLS?
A: I have to say it has to do with games being played with the national team. The more games I played with the national team, the comfort level for me got higher and higher … The more games you play that’s what builds your confidence. So I had a lot of games under my belt.

Q: You mean internationally?
A: Internationally. So I just went into the MLS season with high hopes really … All I wanted to do was just get out on the field and show the (Red Bulls) coach that I deserve to be out there. So when the opportunity finally presented itself, which didn’t take long, I just did what I knew I could. I went out there and I played some awesome games and I got some awesome results …

Q: Are you satisfied (with the 2016 season) though, in terms of how you came into the league and the performance level that you had the first year?
A: I wouldn’t say I feel like I was on the same level. Trying to push myself to get better, but as a professional player you look at yourself and you ask yourself how can you get better … You get better by helping your team get more victories and getting your team a trophy at the end of the day … So in my head it’s about helping the team to get a trophy.

Q: Do you feel you’ve earned respect in (MLS)?
A: I definitely think I’ve earned that from both players and different coaches. I think they respect me now as a player, as a strong player in the league … I appreciate being there and I just continue to try to lift my performance.

Q: 2018 World Cup will be the fifth Jamaica has missed. Jamaica is talking about transitioning from older players to a younger group, especially with competitions like the Gold Cup coming up. How has your role changed in the national team and do you see yourself in a more leadership role now?
A: It’s kinda funny, the way it all played out, because at 24 you no longer have guys calling you
the younger player. (You’re now) the senior man. So you have to smile about it. But at the same time I try to do what I used to see every-day. I try to be that person … To be on time, be a leader on the field, make sure I bring the energy and the right attitude. The right mental attitude, as well, to training every day. And players automatically follow those things. You don’t have to be extra about it or anything like that. Just do simple things. Just being the right professional player.

Q: You accept, though, it’s a responsibility that you have to take on?
A: It is. It is a responsibility. And yeah, I’m happy to, like, take up that responsibility, because the guys look up to me … All of them respect me as a player. But not only as a player, but as a big brother, even though some of them are older … It’s something I used to do in the past. So I know what it feels like. I know I have to live up to that responsibility. It helps me and it helps my game, because all I want to do now is be better, push myself, continue to be a better leader. So it does help, and I know I’m gonna be a good leader.

Q: You’re talking about the national team?
A: Yeah, the national team. Not saying the past camps had been divided, but there’s a difference in the camp now that we didn’t have in the camps that I used to go to. There’s a big difference now. Maybe it’s the age group. All of us are the same age, or close to the same age. But it’s fun now. Everyone has the same goal in mind and the ultimate goal is not to miss a next World Cup.

Q: Do you understand also the responsibility that you represent Jamaica and the Caribbean and the MLS represents an opportunity (for the region)?
A: Yeah, I do understand that and sometimes it’s a slightly heavy burden, because you have to carry yourself a particular way every single day. But … this is the path I took. So, I’m gonna live up to that responsibility and be that type of person.

Q: Red Bulls had quality players last year. But you didn’t win the cup and New York is a very demanding city. How much pressure do you feel from that, from not winning MLS Cup?
A: Not a lot of pressure at all. It’s more like self-pressure than pressure from the fans or even management or the coaches ...

Q: The perception of the Caribbean players has changed in Major League Soccer.
A: It’s different now than it was before ...

Q: What (do MLS coaches and players) think about the Caribbean player?
A: … Look in every one of the MLS teams where there is, and I’m being specific, a Jamaican player. Three quarters of us that’s in a MLS team are starting in our team. And, you know, that alone says a lot about it.… But I don’t think the respect is where it needs to be same way. And it has to do, like, a lot more things, you know. It has to do with salary. Because look at the way they pay any European player that is coming in.

And I’m not talking about my coaches, because I think my team understands me in that aspect and they try to deal with me like any other player … But the league overall can do a lot better in the way, financially, they pay the players coming from the Caribbean, you know. Because I think, like, if we compare what we get to some players that not even getting on the field sometimes, it’s a big joke.

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Meesha Robinson
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