I don’t know if that’s how she really felt but speaking to Ashley Lawrence just before the second leg in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, I got the sense that she and her teammates were calm about the task before them. Excited no doubt, but ultimately calm and confident about their chances of progressing to the final.
Lawrence and the rest of her teammates at Paris Saint-Germain have to overcome a 3-2 loss from the first leg but will feel that in front of a projected record attendance at the Parc des Princes, and many more watching worldwide on DAZN, they have every chance of overturning that deficit and putting in a winning performance.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Lawrence states when asked about this massive occasion. “I’m already seeing that we’ve broken attendance records and that’s amazing.”
It’s not just the crowd attendance that has caught the Canadian international’s eye throughout this week, even the general feel at PSG has gradually changed over the course of the week. “The excitement is definitely building.” Lawrence notes. “At the beginning of the week, it was fairly calm. We were just focused on recovery, preparation, etc but as every day passes, the excitement has grown. I know it’s going to be a good game, it always is against Lyon.”
As per her last few seasons in France, Ashley Lawrence is expected to start at right fullback, against some of the quickest and sharpest forwards that Lyon has to offer. Getting to that point, as a world-renowned fullback for one of the biggest club teams around wasn’t an easy journey but Lawrence feels that she’s been able to come into the role now. “I really do pride myself on how I can really impose myself offensively and add another threat on that right wing. I really worked hard at becoming a solid defender, being hard to go by one-vee-one and just being able to really impose myself on the game offensively and defensively.” Lawrence begins as we talk about how she views her role on the team. “I always look at it as a challenge. On that right wing, I’m owning that side. It’s me against that winger and I’m going to win that challenge today.”
That seems like “big talk” coming from someone who’s only been playing that position for roughly the minority her career but Ashley Lawrence is anything but arrogant when she says that. She has a quiet self-belief in herself and in knowing that it’s her job as a professional and as a teammate to make sure that no matter who she’s up against, she will win that battle. So far, it’s working. She hasn’t faced an opponent that’s defeated her yet.
“Even as a team we all talk about that.” Lawrence continues. “If you can win your individual battle, if everyone on the tam can do that than as a team, we’re going to win.”
Just being a shutdown defender isn’t enough for her though. Lawrence also wants to be a leader on the pitch especially with the experience she now has. Her aim is to add that calmness and composure for her teammates whenever she’s on the ball as a fullback as well.
“Initially, I was a midfielder earlier in my career and I find that playing as a fullback now, I love to search out passes that typically a fullback may not look for.” Lawrence divulges. “When I think about the type of fullback I want to be, I look at someone like Trent Alexander-Arnold and how he plays long balls or certain passes, almost midfield-like. I really enjoy looking for those types of passes as well. I want to look for different angles that make it difficult for the opposition to deal with.”
Alexander-Arnold us the quintessential modern fullback and he makes it look easy so it’s no surprise that that’s who Ashley Lawrence wants to model her game to be more like. The ability to play passes like a midfielder while still also defend is not something a lot of fullbacks can manage but he does it consistently with Liverpool, and Lawrence want to be able to do the same for PSG.
Speaking of PSG, and France in general, the transition from the US collegiate system to how football is played in France wasn’t easy for Ashley Lawrence. The culture, the language barrier and things surrounding that made her move to France a big period of transition and adaptation but one she welcomed wholeheartedly. “On the field, I grew a lot technically especially with my speed of play. The first couple of training sessions here I was like ‘whoa!’” she reminisces with a laugh. “It was a bit shocking to me at the same time challenging, and I loved it because really at his level, you don’t have a choice. You have to adapt on the field and I fortunately learned quickly with the players around me. It was really cool and it helped me grow my game a lot.”
We dig a little deeper into that transition as we discuss how she moved from being a midfielder to one of the best fullbacks in the world, in my opinion. “The positions are becoming more similar now [midfield and fullback’ but the biggest thing I had to learn was how to defend,” Lawrence points out. “As a midfielder, you’re more free and you can defend all over the field because you’re drawn towards the ball. As a fullback, you have to be more disciplined because you’re in the backline and you can’t just run out anywhere so I had to really learn a lot.”
It will probably surprise a lot of people to hear how hard Lawrence found the transition from midfield to fullback given how she’s played since she made that positional switch. It certainly surprised me and when I noted that, Lawrence told me that it took her six months just to get all of the defensive aspects down in her head. She feels that out of everything she had to learn to become the fullback that she is today, the defensive aspects were the biggest challenge.
Despite those obstacles, the 26-year old embraced it all. “I think a key thing for me was pushing myself and being comfortable with being uncomfortable.” That statement certainly caught my attention and as she explained it more, I began to see glimpses of what makes Lawrence such a special player.
“My first year or two as a professional, I would say to myself I can get by with, let me put it this way, my natural ability. Whether it was my speed or....every player has their strengths so I knew I could get by with my own strengths.” Lawrence states. “I then really reflected and thought about how I could improve my game. I asked myself, and others, some hard questions and I realised that it was a lot factors around my performance that I had to work on. For example my nutrition, recovery protocols, and even challenging myself statistically/ ‘How many times can I get into dangerous crossing positions?’ My assists total, my shots total, things that maybe I could have a good performance without doing those but not a great performance. So I analysed my training sessions, my games and started seeing the gaps of where I could improve. That was my biggest factor of becoming the player I am today.” Lawrence continues on, “It hasn’t been easy, it’s been hard but with that, it also became a question of how can I be more consistent. It’s easy to have one or two good games but the hardest things is being a consistent performer throughout a season. That comes to discipline.”
We were running out of time so I couldn’t really pick her brain about why all of these things became a staple for her but just going through her thought process there, showed me why Ashley Lawrence has become such an elite player in such a short period of time. She has a league title and an Olympic Gold medal to her name and at 26, she hasn’t even hit the prime of her career. With the path she’s on right now, and with the mentality she seems to possess, I can only assume that when all is said and done, she’ll be remembered as one of the best to have ever played in the position.
To cap things off, I asked Lawrence about what she misses the most about Canada when she’s in France. With a typically Canadian response, she told me it was Tim Hortons. “Whenever I travel back home, that’s literally the first place I go. I mean, it’s Tim Hortons.” she finishes with a shrug. “Now though, because of everything that’s happened, I miss my friends and family even more. We only get summer and winter off, which is a limited amount of time, so in the past my family used to travel to see me but over the last few years, it’s been more difficult so yeah, I miss my friends and family the most.”
As we spoke about Canada, I also asked if she was looking to hold any events in France for her foundation, Yes She Canada. “Honestly, I’ve been thinking about that because it’s been a few years since I’ve held an even in Canada,” Lawrence says. “Now that I’m more comfortable in France, I’d definitely be more open to that one day.”
Finally when I asked which song she was currently vibing too, she stated that she had two types of vibes. Drake was her go-to for hyping herself up, with no particular song in mind, just whatever came on shuffle, and when she needed a more chill vibe, she tends to stick with Justin Beiber. “They’re both Canadians, so coincidence? Maybe!” she finishes with a laugh.
I end the interview, looking forward to not only watching the semi-final on Saturday but also looking forward to watching the evolution of Ashley Lawrence. We’ve seen much good so far and it feels like we haven’t even reach her peak yet. It’s going to be a great journey to watch, whether it’s with PSG or with Canada.
You can watch all UEFA Women’s Champions League matches on DAZN and DAZN’s Youtube channel.