When Kemar Lawrence officially joined Toronto FC last week, the move marked more than just adding a player that will bolster the team's defense. The team landed someone who had become a covetable target for multiple European teams after he spent a year with Belgian side Anderlecht, though Toronto offered specific perks the others could not.
The left back, in his first remarks as a Toronto player, said his main priority was his family. His wife and children remain based in New Jersey, where the family lived during Lawrence's stint with the New York Red Bulls from 2015 to 2019. He said that staying in Europe without seeing his children "felt kind of selfish," and that being closer to them would benefit not just him on and off the field.
"I could've went to multiple different places," Lawrence told media during a virtual press conference on Tuesday. "I could've stayed in Anderlecht, because I was offered a deal more than once. I could've went to France or even the Championship in England but for me the main thing was family. I get a different drive when my family's around, brings out a different beast in me, different passion and for me, that was it."
With the new lease on competitive life, Lawrence's aims with Toronto are focused. He identified the team as one that can compete for titles immediately, a perfect fit for what he wants out of a new club.
"I'm coming here to win, nothing else," Lawrence said. "I felt like this team will give me the best chances of doing that immediately as I get there. I didn't want to go into a team where it was like rebuilding and starting over again. I couldn't deal with that right now."
Lawrence can begin that journey with Toronto as soon as Wednesday, when they face Columbus SC (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). Lawrence is one of the most high profile additions to the Toronto roster since Chris Armas joined the team as its head coach ahead of this season, adding him to a squad that was part of a successful tenure under Greg Vanney when the team was consistently one of the league's best. Armas identified Lawrence as someone who will improve the squad though his versatility and his mentality.
"He's an intelligent player and he is versatile but I think it's going to be clear for everyone to see that when he's out there, there's a certain presence that he has and he brings, as we say, bite," Armas said Tuesday. "He brings an intensity, an aggressiveness that I think we need on our backline and just in our team in general."
For Lawrence, familiarity with both Armas and the team itself will help him adapt quickly. Lawrence and Armas worked together at the Red Bulls, and the defender said he has both watched Toronto since talks began about him joining the club and also remembers facing his new teammates from his last stint in the league. That should serve Lawrence's target of hitting the ground running with his new club.
"I just want to let loose, have some fun on the field and hopefully at the end of this year, I'm walking away with MLS Cup," Lawrence said.