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No one watches the New York Red Bulls, and other lessons from select 2018 MLS Best XIs


MLS: Eastern Conference Semifinal-New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Compiling a Best XI is a thankless task: you won’t please everyone or even most, and if you really gave it the thought it deserves...well, you’d be watching tape and compiling statistics into the next decade. So it’s not really fair of Once A Metro to throw stones at Best XIs, particularly in the absence of one its own.

Duly noted. Let’s begin.

Official MLS Best XI

MLS really likes forwards and attacking midfielders, but apparently not enough to include the most consistent scorer the league has ever known, Bradley Wright-Phillips. Still, can’t complain too much about this selection from the New York Red Bulls’ perspective: MLS only found room for three defenders in the lineup and two of them were from RBNY’s league-best back line.

The league was obligated to pick MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long, but it has been customary to overlook or diminish the performances of Kemar Lawrence since he landed in the league in 2015 and made RBNY’s starting left-back spot his own. So kudos to MLS for finally getting around to giving Taxi due recognition.

Also credit to’s Andrew Wiebe, whose passion for alternate Best XIs started the Aaron Long hype train rolling back in April when he included the future MLS Defender of the Year in his “All-Underrated Best XI”. Since capped by USMNT and honored by MLS, no chance Long makes that team next year.

Opta Best XI

Opta watches games to generate its stats, but then it mostly watches its stats to generate its Best XI and that produced a team without a single representative from MLS’ Best Team Ever: the 2018 New York Red Bulls.

Might want to look at those stats again Opta. Best XI

Another stats-driven selection, that at least sliced its data in a way that produced a couple of players from the best defense in MLS 2018: Luis Robles and Aaron Long are in this one.

But what does WhoScored’s stats prize so highly that it is driven to believe the best left-back in MLS this year played for Orlando City’s league-worst back-line (74 goals conceded)?

You were robbed, Kemar.

Goal Best XI put together a list of the 10 best players at every position in MLS back in 2015 and somehow didn’t find room for Kemar Lawrence. At all.

No, Once A Metro hasn’t forgotten that Taylor Kemp (!) made that list, but not the guy who took RBNY’s starting left-back spot and wouldn’t give it back in a Shield-winning season for the Red Bulls, and emerged from Copa America 2015 hailed as one of the best players in his position in this hemisphere.

So credit to Goal for recognizing the error of its ways and including Lawrence in its 2018 MLS Best XI.

Goal spoils the party slightly with its write-up on Lawrence’s stand-out qualities:

The Jamacian speedster enjoyed a career year, emerging as a lock-down defender at the left back position while continuing to be a threat in the attack. His importance to the Red Bulls’ league-best defense was clear after his absence from the Red Bulls’ Eastern Conference finals loss to Atlanta United.

“Jamaican speedster” is a phrase that should have retired with Usain Bolt. But sure, Lawrence is Jamaican and he is quick.

As for a career year: 2018 was certainly a career year for RBNY and Lawrence did play more games for the club than ever before, but that has more to do with fitness and national-team duty than anything else. Pretty much since his debut for the Red Bulls at the end of March 2015, if Lawrence is fit and available, he plays for RBNY.

This season’s Shield was his second in four years with RBNY, and he’s been to the last two Gold Cup finals with Jamaica - and most of Mexico will remember Lawrence’s special contribution to Gold Cup 2017 even if Goal has already forgotten.

Maybe that highlight and the fact he scored a couple of goals for RBNY this season could lead someone to believe that Lawrence is persistent “threat in the attack” for the Red Bulls. But he doesn’t take set pieces for his club and if all you want out of a full-back is goals and assists then you’re better off with Taylor Kemp. Lawrence’s stand-out strength is bailing out the RBNY back-line, which he has been doing on the regular since 2015.

Lawrence didn’t emerge as a lock-down defender in 2018, he just happened to not be around for the first leg of the 2018 MLS Eastern Conference Final when his team really could have used the awareness, anticipation, and, sure, speed that he brings to the Red Bulls every day he plays for them.

But maybe MLS Best XI compilers will be watching the Red Bulls more closely next year and we’ll see a few more RBNY players honored in 2019 - possibly even for the right reasons.