While the New York Red Bulls were batting away rumors of the imminent departure of head coach Jesse Marsch, the team's starting left back was quietly advancing his preparations for the coming season. Per the Jamaica Observer, Kemar Lawrence joined a Jamaica men's national team training camp convened by coach Theodore "Tappa" Whitmore on January 10.
The short camp - players were expected to be together for less than a week - represented the Reggae Boyz first visible preparations for upcoming February friendlies against the USA and Honduras. Whitmore named a training squad comprised entirely of Jamaica-based players, with team manager Roy Simpson explaining to the Observer that the roster for February would be "dominated" by local players, in part because the games will be played outside the FIFA window for international matches and clubs are therefore not obligated to release players to their national team.
Noting the Jamaica Football Federation had a "good partnership with respective clubs" and was in particular discussion with MLS teams over the release of players for the Reggae Boyz forthcoming matches, Simpson promised a strong squad with a perhaps more-than-usual contingent of players drawn from Jamaica's Red Stripe Premier League.
As such, Lawrence's presence in the Reggae Boyz camp does not necessarily mean he will either be selected to the squad named for the international friendlies on February 3 (against the USA) and 16 (against Honduras), nor that he will be allowed to play by his club. The New York Red Bulls have a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Vancouver Whitecaps on February 22.
But RBNY has received some help from international teams during this off-season. Lawrence isn't the only Red Bull getting himself ready for the new season in a national team camp. Derrick Etienne recently got back from two weeks (and two caps and a goal) with Haiti in Trinidad. Sacha Kljestan, Luis Robles, and Dax McCarty have US Men's National Team training through to February 3: the match against Jamaica. If his country wants him, it seems only fair for RBNY to let Lawrence play at least in the game against the USA - when he may be playing club-mates who were afforded the courtesy of being permitted to answer their country's call for an out-of-season national team camp.
Looking ahead, however, Lawrence's involvement with Jamaica might not be as heavy as it was last year. The team is in a self-declared rebuilding phase after the failure to make it to the last round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and the departure of head coach Winfried Schafer. The mindset of the current coaching staff is to use the time between now and the Caribbean Cup finals in June to explore and develop the pool of Jamaica-based players, including the emerging crop of schoolboy talent.
Lawrence is himself proof positive of the talent that can be found in Jamaica's soccer system. Born and raised on the island, he played several seasons in the RSPL, between unsuccessful efforts to find a path to a pro deal in North America (Vancouver Whitecaps and D.C. United both had a look at him in the years prior to his arrival at RBNY). When he was ultimately signed by the Red Bulls in 2015, he had already been capped by Jamaica and almost instantly - once he got his shot at a start - established himself as one of the best left backs in MLS.
He is now a senior player within the Jamaica squad, but if the next few months are about developing a wider talent pool, perhaps the Reggae Boyz will do without him for a game or two before the Caribbean Cup finals.
In the meantime, he has a club season to prepare for, and it is no bad thing that his national team is willing to let him join its camp for a few days.