When Minnesota United obtained veteran defender Kemar Lawrence in March for a pittance, you might have wondered if he was acquired from Toronto FC to replace Chase Gasper at starting left back, push him there or provide depth as an experienced substitute.
"You ever watch me, all my career?" he asked. "I always start. Not to be cocky or anything. That's just me. I always have, even in Europe."
Now there is no doubt, not after the Loons on Wednesday sold Gasper — their starting left back for his first three MLS seasons — to the LA Galaxy for general allocation money.
Center-back Bakaye Dibassy, DJ Taylor and Oniel Fisher all started games at left back for Gasper, who hadn't played yet this season because of a preseason concussion and a month's stay in a treatment center.
Lawrence has started four of the past five games at left back. The starter's job is his now that he has played himself nearly into full fitness. He missed preseason while waiting for new Toronto coach Bob Bradley to clean house and trade much of the last season's roster.
The Loons paid a conditional $50,000 in GAM and traded the rights to a former second-round pick to get the Jamaican who is a permanent U.S. resident.
"He's getting better by the week," Loons coach Adrian Heath said. "He hadn't played for a while."
At 29, Lawrence has played on two Supporters' Shield winners with New York Red Bulls, was named to the 2018 MLS Best XI and was a 2019 All-Star. He also played 16 games in the 2020 and 2021 seasons for Belgium first-division Anderlecht before he returned home because of family reasons.
"We know what we're getting and we're delighted we got him," Heath said. "Obviously the signing now in light of what's happened with Chase, it proves it was a good decision from us in the beginning."
Heath called Lawrence's March arrival a separate matter from Gasper's voluntary decision to enter MLS' treatment program. Both were announced within days in mid-March. Heath said the team had been seeking competition at that position and depth as well.
If it was competition Heath wanted, Lawrence said the Loons got the right guy.
"I always compete," he said. "If I'm starting, I'm always competing, trying to be the best every single game. If you watch me in training, if you watch me in games, it's just my personality to fight for everything and not get complacent. That's one of the reasons I wanted to come here. I saw we had a chance to win and I could make it better."
Lawrence started last Sunday's game and played all 90 minutes up and down the left side — often against Los Angeles FC superstar Carlos Vela — in a 2-0 decision lost on late goals.
"He played against maybe the best player in the league at that position and I don't think it's any coincidence they took the guy off eventually," Heath said. "I can't remember much that Carlos Vela did because Kemar was all over him. He couldn't route-run him. Couldn't outfight him. Couldn't outthink him. Kemar is a quality player."
He's also now part of a veteran starting backline in which Dibassy, Michael Boxall and Fisher or injured Romain Metanire are 30 or older.
"That's tons of experience and guys who have just done it for a long time," Loons captain Wil Trapp said.
Lawrence notes there are experienced players with younger legs as well, but this backline works. Only the Galaxy, Dallas, Philadelphia, New York Red Bulls and Chicago have allowed fewer than the Loons' eight goals in nine games.
"I feel like with this back four, it just fits right," Lawrence said. "It's not always older, experienced guys are better. Sometimes if you mix younger guys with experienced guys, it works perfectly. At this point, it just fits right. Coach figured it out and it's working fine."