Kemar Lawrence is one of the busier members of the New York Red Bulls current squad. His arrival at RBNY in 2015 coincided with a breakout performance for his national team, Jamaica, at Copa America. At 22, after spending the summer of 2015 making himself essential to RBNY and Jamaica, he could reasonably be regarded as one of the top left backs in MLS and CONCACAF.
With that recognition came the pressure of being an every-game starter for club and country. In 2016, that pressure seemed to manifest in the form of injuries that cost him time on the field for both RBNY and the Reggae Boyz. He looked, if anything, overworked.
Lawrence literally laughed that suggestion off at RBNYs 2017 Media Day, chuckling over the word: "Overworked...I wouldn't say overworked, because I'm the type of player that wants to play every game. But playing every game does have a toll on your body and I think I went through a bit of that in a couple of moments, or a couple of different parts of the season. So I'm just working now on taking better care of my body."
Players work hard to achieve their dreams: turn pro, make the first team, make the starting lineup, be a respected starter, and become a regular at the international level - that is a progression that takes perseverance and dedication. Some might not want quite so much, some might find they prefer to do less, but Lawrence is a 24-year-old who wants to keep doing what he is doing with both club and country. His attitude to last season's periodic struggles with fitness and form is simple: do better.
Moving forward, I think that's what I need to do: just learn how to take better care of my body. Because I'm the type of player that wants to play every game. That's never going to change. It's about taking care of my body, maybe picking some of the games not to go to.
The games aren't the only issue, of course. A player also has to get to the games, and Lawrence does concede that the requirements of the MLS season and Jamaica's often wide-ranging schedule make for a heavy burden of travel: "The travel is definitely tough. You know, we almost travel like every week in MLS, and then to travel to Chile and sometimes, like, China or wherever Jamaica is going - sometimes it's pretty tough." But he is undeterred.
It is what it is: I want to make those travels; I want to play those games. It's really up to me to make better decisions in what I do to my body and stuff like that.
Jamaica had a disappointing 2016, all told. In 2015, the team had been competitive in Copa America and made a surprising run to the final of the Gold Cup. But last year saw the Reggae Boyz exit Copa America Centenario without win and suffer elimination from CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. The team is now in a rebuilding phase, looking toward this year's Caribbean Cup and Gold Cup to re-establish momentum and start to identify the players who can help Jamaica enjoy a more successful run at making the 2022 World Cup.
During this process, Lawrence has emerged as a senior player for his country. For the recent February friendly against Honduras, he wasn't just the most-capped specialist defender in the squad - he had more caps than the other five back-line specialists combined (and he has 36 caps: more than many, but hardly a national team record). He is not yet 25, but he is a veteran whether he likes it or not.
Lawrence likes it: "It's funny, when as a 24-year-old you're one of the older players. I really love the experience and I'm really looking forward to, like, leading that team. It's pretty awesome, the way the guys talk about me in that team and look up to me."
He credits the perspective gained from national team duty with a new attitude to his work at club level.
It kind of transfers when I get here: I try to play more of a leadership role now. I try to own more responsibility.
Respect is earned, and Lawrence enjoys having earned the respect of younger or less-experienced teammates in the Reggae Boyz squad. He does not shrink from the responsibility, not least because his own role models - the veterans who set the examples he hopes to follow - are mostly still around.
It's a pretty awesome feeling, to see the guys really look up to you. You're just inspiration to them. I know what it feels like, because I have guys like Wes Morgan and people like that. In Red Bull teams I got guys like Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Dax [McCarty] when he was here - so I have those people to look up to. So it's pretty awesome that people are looking up to me now. I just want to be a pretty good leader, and still be an awesome friend at the same time.
He's only two seasons removed from the year he broke into the RBNY first-team as - at the time - an emerging Jamaica national-teamer with scant reputation outside his home country. And that year brought the challenge of finding a way to be the left back RBNY required, in its particular system of play, and that required by the Reggae Boyz: "My first year, it was kind of like 'switch on, switch off'. Sometimes I got caught between the tactics when I would go to the Jamaica team."
Clearly, he figured it out - or he wouldn't be holding down a starting role in both squads. He has not just figured it out, however, Lawrence is also a sort of tactical ambassador for RBNY to Jamaica.
As the years went by, that just got easier and I kind of apply some of the things I learn at Red Bull into my Jamaican team - and they actually really like it. So it has gotten easier, but at first it was difficult at times.
If all goes well for Lawrence this year, he can look forward to CONCACAF Champions League, the MLS regular season and playoffs, and maybe a little US Open Cup with RBNY. And he should have Caribbean Cup finals and a Gold Cup with Jamaica this summer. He's the type of player that wants to play every game - be assured he's figuring out how to get close to that in 2017.