Kemar Lawrence doesn’t take a lot of free kicks for the New York Red Bulls.
Doesn’t need to, one might very reasonably say: RBNY has been quite proficient at scoring goals from set pieces since Lawrence joined the club. The primary set-piece taker in that span - Sacha Kljestan - is hold the Red Bulls’ all-time assists record, in large part because of his success in teeing up his teammates from dead-ball situations.
Nor has RBNY’s productivity from set pieces slowed significantly since Kljestan left the club, as illustrated most recently by the routine deployed for the Red Bulls’ opening goal against Columbus in the second leg of their 2018 MLS Eastern Conference semifinal series.
17' The MLS Defender of the Year showing some offense! Aaron Long makes this series 1-1 on aggregate. #RBNY #MLSCupPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/FKCwv894lx— Last Word on Soccer (@LastWordSC) November 12, 2018
That sequence was initiated by Sean Davis, who has doubled his career-best single-season league assists tally for RBNY since becoming a more regular set-piece taker now Kljestan has moved on.
Given that the Red Bulls just set the MLS single-season points record, it’s fair to say they’re not broken - so this is not a plea for the team to fix its approach to set pieces. Just an observation that RBNY has a very capable set-piece taker who almost never attempts set pieces for the team: Kemar Lawrence.
On free kicks and corners, you are most likely to see Kemar Lawrence hovering in the back-field, waiting to collect second balls or shut down counter-attack opportunities. And perhaps that’s the best use of his talents: his pace and anticipation combine to make him appear the quickest player on the team - and whether he is the fastest (thinking and running) Red Bull or not, few in MLS have his ability to read an opponent’s pass and follow through to cut it out.
What a tackle by Kemar Lawrence! Crucial timing to prevent Asad from racing into empty space, and the crunching force befitting a rivalry match.#RBNYvDC #RBNY #MLS #AtlanticCup #RivalryWeek pic.twitter.com/qH9vVXyFyT— #ThankYouDeuce (@JogaBonito_USA) August 27, 2018
As the Red Bulls have demonstrated amply since Lawrence was signed in 2015, they can find players not called Kemar Lawrence to effectively take free kicks and corners. But they haven’t really found anyone but Kemar Lawrence to bail out the back line when all seems lost. So maybe that is the reason he doesn’t take set pieces for RBNY: he’s indispensable elsewhere on the field.
Certainly, the reason cannot be that the Red Bulls don’t know Kemar Lawrence can do good things with a dead ball. His signature highlight before he joined RBNY was the goal he scored direct from a free kick against Canada in September, 2014.
More recently and more famously, there’s the free kick that floored Mexico in the semi-finals of the 2017 Gold Cup.
And most recently of all, against Suriname in 2019-20 CONCACAF Nations League Qualifying, Lawrence demonstrated he doesn’t just shoot from dead-ball situations - he can float in a cross with the best of them.
7’ Gol @jff_football! @kemarkemar24's cross sets up a Cory Burke header, giving the home side the lead!#CNL #TheDreamStartsNow pic.twitter.com/VkGLy4is1e— Concacaf Nations League (@CNationsLeague) November 18, 2018
Maybe one day there will be as many highlights of Kemar Lawrence’s set-piece prowess in a Red Bulls shirt as there are of him making free-kick magic in a Jamaica jersey. But for that to happen, he will need to take
a few several many more than none-at-all free kicks for RBNY.
Just a reminder to the New York Red Bulls - a team that likes to try everything it can think of to get goals from set pieces - that there is one set-piece option they never seem to think of at all: his name is Kemar Lawrence and he can take free kicks.