The New York Red Bulls are already in the midst of a transformative offseason after the departures of Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips, but their attempts to rebuild and reload could be hampered further as one of their remaining key figures is also looking to leave.
MLS All-Star defender Kemar Lawrence has requested a trade from the Red Bulls, a move that came after the club refused his request to renegotiate his contract, sources confirmed to SBI.
Lawrence signed a contract extension with the Red Bulls late in the 2018 MLS season, a deal which made him the highest-paid defender on the team at the time, and projected to make him one of the highest-paid fullbacks in MLS.
That status changed dramatically shortly after he signed though, with Red Bulls central defenders Aaron Long and Tim Parker both signing lucrative new deals in 2019 paying each of them almost double what Lawrence is due to make.
A wave of new contracts among left backs left Lawrence outside the Top 5, behind the likes of Jorge Villafana, Brad Smith and Ronald Matarrita, as well as Vancouver Whitecaps defender Ali Adnan, who signed a league-high deal paying him $1.2 million in 2019, almost three times more than the $383,000 Lawrence made in 2019.
Lawrence was one of the top defenders in MLS in 2018, establishing himself as the best defensive fullback in the league. He endured some injuries in 2019, which limited him to 20 starts, but he still played at a high level in a year that saw Long, Parker and Michael Murillo all take steps back in their MLS form in what was a disappointing season for the Red Bulls.
The Red Bulls aren’t under any obligation to restructure Lawrence’s current deal considering it still has two more guaranteed years and an option year remaining, but sources tell SBI that a holdout is a possibility in order to force a trade.
Lawrence wouldn’t be the first top MLS defender to force his way out of a team in pursuit of a new contract. Ike Opara asked to be traded from Sporting Kansas City before the 2019 season, which led to Opara being dealt to Minnesota United. Opara went on to win MLS Defender of the Year and recently secured a new contract with the Loons.
The Red Bulls are also facing the possibility of losing Aaron Long, who is the subject of transfer interest from multiple clubs in Europe. The Red Bulls do have a viable replacement for Lawrence in Kyle Duncan, but losing Long and Lawrence, after already parting with Robles and Wright-Phillips, could leave the Red Bulls struggling for experience and depth.
A source tells SBI that the Red Bulls are not looking to shop Lawrence. If the Red Bulls did decide to trade Lawrence, they would have no shortage of suitors for a player widely-regarded as the best defensive fullback in the league.
The Red Bulls declined a request for comment on this report.