For Ashley Lawrence, the time was right.
With her stellar soccer career at West Virginia University over and with plenty of time before the 2020 Olympics, the world truly was her oyster. Lawrence was in demand in North America and abroad.
Europe won out. But the 21-year-old from Toronto says she sees herself playing in North America down the line.
“It was definitely a difficult decision,” Lawrence said from France where she now wears the storied uniform of Paris Saint-Germain. “Especially in my senior year at university. Naturally I was giving some thought to the next step.
“I thought about NWSL, I thought about Europe and I knew for myself that I wanted to experience both at some point in my career. Having the opportunity to go to Europe and playing with a club like PSG, it’s a massive opportunity and there’s a lot of challenges that come with it. And I think for me, it’s important to continue to challenge myself, challenge my game because in two years time it’s the next big event for Canada â€” the World Cup â€” and it’s important that when we’re outside of Canada, that we’re continuing to develop our game at the highest level.”
Her contract with PSG runs through June 2019.
Lawrence has joined a winner. Midway through the season, Paris Saint-Germain leads the league with a 10-0-0 record and has qualified for the quarter-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
“The teammates, the staff have been very welcoming,” said Lawrence, who already has an apartment despite being in Paris a little more than a week. “Of course I was a little nervous with the language barrier but they’ve done very well to adjust to help me with the transition.
“And the level (of soccer) is very high. It’s been only been four training sessions and every player’s very technical. The pace of the game is fast. It’s very challenging but for me it’s exciting because I know it’s going to help me as a player, help me develop my game in the right direction.”
Lawrence finds herself part of a global squad that features players from France, Brazil, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Poland and Spain.
She studied French in high school and says it is coming back. She has asked her teammates only to speak French, to help speed up the transition.
“It’s not bad. I have a good foundation,” she said.
PSG has a French Cup game Sunday against Bourges, with league play resuming Jan. 14 against Montpellier. Lawrence hopes to make her debut in one of those matches.
A midfielder at West Virginia, Lawrence has played fullback most recently for Canada. Lawrence says she may see action at both positions at PSG depending on the game and strategy.
She will wear No. 12 for her new team. She wore No. 9 at West Virginia and has No. 10 with Canada.
Lawrence hopes to make it home for Canada’s Feb. 4 friendly against Mexico in Vancouver, a game billed as a celebration of the team’s Olympic bronze-medal performance last summer in Brazil. PSG has league games on Feb. 1 and 5 but Lawrence says negotiations are under way.
Lawrence started 87 of 91 career matches at West Virginia, collecting 63 points (17 goals, 29 assists) including a career-high 10 assists last season. A team captain and four-time All-Big 12 first-team choice, Lawrence ranks third all-time at West Virginia with 29 career assists.
Lawrence has played with friend and fellow Canadian international Kadeisha Buchanan since the two were nine years old in Brampton, Ont. The 21-year-old Buchanan has yet to declare her club future but has been linked to European champion Olympique Lyonnais.
Lawrence, for one, is savouring the City of Lights.
“It’s very beautiful. Everyone is very welcoming, warm. And it’s easy on the eyes, too,” she said enthusiastically. “I’m just grateful to be here.”
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press