The New York Red Bulls have agreed to sell left-back Kemar Lawrence. The sale is problematic for a team that is not replenishing its talent.
Major League Soccer has changed this offseason, potentially to an irreversible extent. There is greater investment in the league than ever before. Teams are breaking their transfer records, higher-quality players are arriving throughout the league, and there is an acceptance that substantial and smart investment is now required to compete.
The likes of Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver, and Columbus are all spending significantly despite never having really done so previously — in fact, Sporting KC spent more on one player in this offseason than they have spent on all of their past transfers.
But while these teams are embracing the modernised MLS, looking to build the most competitive team possible, the New York Red Bulls continue to do the entire opposite.
Over the past two years, the New York Red Bulls have dismantled one of the best teams in MLS history. Their Supporters’ Shield-winning team was sensational, but the talent that comprised that team is now seeping away from the club.
Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips departed this offseason, Tyler Adams, the linchpin central midfielder was sold last year, while the club is now setting about selling some of their best players, chiefly the full-backs, Michael Amir Murillo and now Kemar Lawrence. Per The Athletic, Lawrence is set to sign for Anderlecht in a $1.25 million deal.
The sale has been anticipated for some time. While Lawrence was one of the premier full-backs in MLS, his relationship with the New York Red Bulls was contentious. In November, Lawrence requested a trade despite signing a multi-year contract in 2018. Lawrence wanted another new deal and felt aggrieved with the team’s previous management of veteran players. In the end, he got the sale he wanted.
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The price is a little cheap, even though an unhappy player often reduces the fee a selling club can demand. But the bigger issue for the Red Bulls is the depletion of talent. The great teams of 2017 and 2018 are now long in the rearview mirror, the best and most influential players from those teams having been sold or allowed to leave.
Now, selling is not necessarily a bad thing. MLS is beginning to embrace the benefits of wheeling and dealing in the global market. Atlanta United and LAFC are even embracing selling, recognising how to reinvest the money that is made from clever recruitment. But selling and not replacing the talent that departs is a critical problem, and that is what the Red Bulls have done this and last offseason.
They still have no replacement for Adams, both full-back positions are far weaker than in previous years, while they have no true goalscorer to replace Wright-Phillips up-front, even if Brian White and Tom Barlow at least offer some ability to do so.
The Red Bulls are a mess. They have sold their talent and failed to replenish it. And Lawrence is just the latest example.