Canadian women’s team coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller doesn’t mince words when speaking about Ashley Lawrence.
“From my point of view, she’s the best fullback in the world, by far,” Heiner-Møller told reporters last week on the eve of Canada’s opening game at the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament.
Canadian captain Christine Sinclair also has a high opinion of her teammate.
“She’s just world class,” Sinclair told CanPL.ca after Canada’s win over Mexico earlier this week
Lawrence, a 24-year-old native of Toronto, has established herself as a key player for Canada ever since making her national team debut in 2013. A former NCAA star at the University of West Virginia, Lawrence has earned 87 caps for Canada and scored seven goals – including two during this Olympic qualifying campaign – and is one of the first names on the Canadian team sheet.
Voted Canadian player of the year in 2019, Lawrence is a fullback by trade, but she has routinely been deployed in midfield by Heiner-Møller. Her versatility is just one of her many attributes – she’s developed a deft touch on the ball and solid technical skills since signing with Paris Saint-Germain, one of the biggest pro clubs in the women’s game.
CanPL.ca recently sat down for a chat with Lawrence to discuss her amazing ascent from college star to national team standout, her role with Canada, and about living in Paris.
You were sitting beside Kenneth Heiner-Møller in the press conference last week when he called you “the best fullback in the world.” What did it mean to you to hear such lofty praise?
Ashley Lawrence: That is, honestly, an honour to even hear that from him. As Canadians, we pride ourselves on being the best as a team. Every single player steps onto the pitch to perform at the highest level, and lot of hard work goes into that. It’s a full-time process… I go out there each time to bring my best for Canada, to help us win games and get results. If I can be that best fullback, or wherever I’m asked to play, I’m up for the challenge.
Do you have a preferred position? Kenneth called you the best fullback in the world, but he’s used you in midfield in this tournament.
Ashley Lawrence: I just love being involved in the attack. I love to make that difference in the final third, creating scoring opportunities and scoring goals myself. In my game, I’ve developed that over time. I would always set up a lot of goals but now I’m finding myself in positions to score goals, so I’ve added that dimension to my game. … I love just getting forward, and using my pace and delivering those quality crosses into the box.
You were named Canadian player of the year for 2019, which puts you in some pretty elite company. Christine Sinclair has been named player of the year a record 14 times. Canada Soccer Hall of Famers Charmaine Hooper, Andrea Neil and Silvana Burtini have also won the honour. Have you had time to reflect on the significance of winning the award?
Ashley Lawrence: Honestly, even now, it hasn’t hit me. I mean, it has, but it hasn’t – it wavers. It’s still hard to wrap my head around the idea … Christine Sinclair is a legend, and before playing on the team she was someone I looked up to. Just being on this team and playing with her, I’m in awe every day because of her example and leadership. For me, I always strive to be at her level, so to have this accolade under my belt, it’s amazing and a testament to the work I put in last year, but I also want to continue to set the bar high for myself with Canada.
In 2016, you were playing NCAA soccer with West Virginia, and you helped Canada win an Olympic bronze medal. The following year you signed with PSG. Then in 2019, you played in your first World Cup and were named Canada’s player of the year. It’s a lot of success in a short period of time. Is your head still spinning?
Ashley Lawrence: [laughs] I like to take it all in stride. When you look at my trajectory since school, it does seem like a lot. I’ve put in the work for those opportunities and for me, it’s about being present day to day. Long-term, there’s goals I’ve set for myself with PSG. But I also try to stay present, and right now it’s about the Tokyo Olympics, and how I can be my best in training for my team and myself, and how can I go out there and give my best for Canada.
How is life in Paris treating you? What’s it been like for you living in such a glamourous city?
Ashley Lawrence: It’s taken time to adjust to the language, and it’s a different culture. There’s a lot of different factors to deal with, but it’s not too bad of a city to live in. [laughs]
The training environment at PSG is so professional. I have the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the world, and I’m so grateful for that. Having Jordyn [Huitema] there has been a great addition to the team… Having her there at such a young age, it shows the growth of this country and that we can play at the highest level.
How has being at PSG, and playing in the French first division and the UEFA Women’s Champions League, helped your development?
Ashley Lawrence: It’s been huge. It’s now been three years and I notice the differences in my game. The speed of my play, my technical ability has risen to a whole other level.
My leadership, too. Going to France wasn’t easy; being away from my family and friends wasn’t an easy decision. But I knew I had to take that step at that point in my career because I wanted to take my game to a new level. There’s been challenging moments along the way, but it’s through those moments that I’ve grown tremendously as a player.