Soccer

Canadian soccer star Ashley Lawrence living through 'unique time' in France

At 24, Ashley Lawrence is the reigning Canada Soccer female player of the year — an influential fullback/midfielder who has already won 91 caps for her country.

PSG player elected to stay while Canadian teammates Buchanan, Huitema came home

Canada defender Ashley Lawrence, seen above in February, chose to stay in France with her boyfriend during the global coronavirus pandemic. (Chris Carlson/AP/The Canadian Press)

At 24, Ashley Lawrence is the reigning Canada Soccer female player of the year — an influential fullback/midfielder who has already won 91 caps for her country.

But the Paris Saint-Germain player has other things on her mind these days.

"This is definitely a unique time we're living in," she said from Paris. "For myself during this period, I'm always someone who tries to practise gratitude and to really see what I do have. I think it's definitely more of an eye-opener being at home inside during such a long period of time. It really makes you think.

"For myself, it's recognizing that staying inside, it's so important. It's difficult for a lot of people, for some more than others, but it's a sacrifice that is going to help us in the long term. I think that there is a silver lining in this for everyone and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Staying inside saves lives and it's true."

Lawrence, a native of Brampton, Ont., elected to stay in France at the beginning of the pandemic.

"I thought that maybe it'd last a few weeks and then the season would pick back up," she said. "And now it's obviously a lot longer than that."

Canadian teammates return home

Another major factor was she lives with her boyfriend. Had she been alone, she says she would likely have returned home. PSG striker Jordyn Huitema and Lyon defender Kadeisha Buchanan, fellow Canadian internationals, are back in Canada.

France has been hit hard by the virus. Life has changed.

"Right now, we're at a point where it's pretty restricted," said Lawrence.

She can leave her home to go shopping for groceries and necessities but otherwise is limited to an hour a day outside and has to carry a document that shows when she left and why.

"So very strict, but for obvious reasons," she said.

There are "enormous" lineups at stores, exacerbated by the need for social distancing and limits to the number of people inside. The good news is Lawrence lives in the Paris suburbs, so the situation is slightly better than downtown.

Lawrence, who gets the occasional run in, is eating healthy. Her boyfriend studied nutrition.

PSG has given her an indoor workout regimen, as has the Canadian national team. Canada has also organized webinar sessions so she can work out with teammates and the national team strength and conditioning coach.

"I think it's great for motivation and to see that we're all in the same position in different parts of the world," she said. "[After] getting the news of the Olympics being postponed, collectively we're still working towards a goal and that's the [Tokyo] competition — but also our personal development every day. So that's been really nice to get that support."

Important games loomed

Another of the reasons she elected to stay in France was Paris Saint-Germain was facing a crucial time in its schedule. Second in the French league, PSG (13-1-2) was due to play league-leading Lyon on March 14, Bordeaux in the French Cup semifinal on March 21 and Arsenal in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final on March 25.

"Definitely a critical time for us," said Lawrence, who joined PSG in January 2017 after a successful collegiate career at West Virginia.

PSG's Ashley Lawrence, right, duels for the ball against FC Barcelona's Leila Ouahabi during the Women's Champions League semifinal in April 2017. (Manu Fernandez/The Associated Press)

With Paris Saint-Germain just three points behind Lyon (14-0-2), the top-of-the-table clash was a big one.

Lawrence has seen action in a variety of roles with Canada from fullback to winger and central midfielder. With PSG, she has been playing on the left side — as fullback and wing.

She feels comfortable in both roles but says she enjoys playing left back, which allows her to attack down the flank or cut inside and use her right foot.

"I think I can really add a lot to the fullback position and kind of reinvent it in different ways," she said.

'A helping hand'

These days Lawrence takes pride in the soccer community doing what it can to help during the pandemic, citing the likes of Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo who have stepped up to assist with generous contributions.

But you don't have to be a superstar to make a difference.

"A helping hand. I think that's really what it's all about," she said. "It's seeing a person and seeing how you can help them in any sort of way, and make a difference. It is a chain effect."

Lawrence has been doing her bit back home for several years via Yes She Canada, which she founded to help connect pro players with young girls and mentor them through sports "show them that they can believe in themselves, that their dreams are possible."

"As I continue to learn, I want to transmit those experiences onto the next generation."

Her time in France has honed her French language skills, with Lawrence saying it is now the language used at home with her boyfriend.

"I struggled with it [at school]. I would say that I was starting from scratch when I first came over to France," she said.

Canada's Beckie re-signs with Machester City

Canadian international Janine Beckie has signed a two-year contract extension with Manchester City.

The 25-year-old's current deal was to expire at the end of June.

"My agent called me a few times throughout the year to share some inquiries he had received from abroad but it has always been my goal to win the UWCL [UEFA Women's Champions League]," Beckie said in a statement.

"We have built a squad who can compete for every title available in the women's club game and that is the kind of team I desire to continue with."

Beckie has already done her bit to help fill the Man City trophy case. In February 2019, she converted the decisive spot kick in a penalty shootout as City beat Arsenal to claim the FA Women's Continental League Cup at Sheffield's Bramall Lane.

A striker converted to wingback in the absence of the injured Aoife Mannion, Beckie has five goals and 10 assists in 21 games this season.

Beckie, who made her senior debut in November 2014, has 31 goals and eight assists in 70 appearances for Canada.

She had three goals in the Canadian women's bronze-medal campaign at the 2016 Rio Olympics, setting a Games record for fastest goal just 20 seconds into Canada's opening contest against Australia.

Beckie joined Manchester City in August 2018 from Sky Blue FC.

"She represents everything that we are about — a player who has the desire to win and improve, whilst always putting the team's needs above her own," said Gavin Makel, City's head of women's football. "There's no doubt that Janine will continue to get better and better as she has done over the last couple of years."

City currently tops the suspended FA Women's Super League with a 13-2-1 record but exited the Champions League in the round of 16 at the hands of Atletico Madrid.

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