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Lawrence and Murillo take different paths in Belgian escape

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Differing fortunes for the recently-departed RBNY fullbacks at Anderlecht

RSC Anderlecht v Royal Excel Mouscron Peruwelz - Jupiler Pro League Photo by Jan De Meuleneir / Photonews via Getty Images

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Belgian First Division A prematurely concluded its season on May 15th with Club Brugge being named champion. Anderlecht – a club of possible interest to New York Red Bulls fans – finished in 8th place. The Purple and White is home to two of the former best fullbacks in Major League Soccer: Michael Amir Murillo and Kemar Lawrence.

Murillo transferred to Anderlecht in December of 2019, fulfilling his dream of moving to Europe. Since joining the club, the Panamanian has been a smashing success. According to Voetbal Nieuws, his value has risen from 680,000 euros to 2,800,000 euros in a mere few months, deepening Anderlecht’s commitment to a new “data-driven transfer policy.” The 24-year-old “quickly adapted to his new team”, adjusted to the higher quality of play, and improved his dribbling and passing numbers. He started and played 90 minutes in all eight available matches, scored one goal, assisted on two, and led the team in successful crosses.

However, the Red Bulls shouldn’t be blamed for letting go of Murillo or failing to play him over what some would consider less talented fullbacks. After all, just because a player succeeds in one team doesn’t mean he’s capable of being a star at every club. Should the managers of Brentford, Scunthorpe United, Viborg, and the Carolina RailHawks be permanently banned from the sport because Mike Grella wasn’t a star at those clubs? Of course not, roster building and player adaptability are not one size fits all.

As anyone could observe, Murillo wasn’t good in MLS. Voetbal Nieuws notes, “In 2019, Murillo was even the prime figure in the number of successful aerial duels and interceptions in the MLS. In addition, the Panamanian also - among all MLS flank defenders - entered the top ten in terms of successful defensive and offensive actions.”

Oh… huh. It sounds like he was pretty good in MLS. How about that? Well… did you hear that Murillo won a virtual FIFA tournament in May? He claimed the “FIFA King of the Americas” crown with a 5-4 victory over Bryan Ruiz of Santos. That’s pretty cool.

Anyway, Kemar Lawrence – arguably the most important player in RBNY’s gegenpress of recent years and one of the club’s three best players in the 2010s decade – is also at Anderlecht. He requested a trade following the 2019 season, despite signing a contract extension in 2018. At the time, the Jamaican defender claimed he “just [doesn’t] feel appreciated” and Red Bull announced his move to the 34-time Belgian champions in late January.

FBL-BELGIUM-ANDERLECHT Photo by VIRGINIE LEFOUR/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images

Lawrence believed the reason for the move was bigger than his career. “In negotiating in New York, we couldn’t find common ground, and you see people just came [into the league] and how fast they rise when it’s time to negotiate your contract... but you as a Jamaican, they tend to pause and question everything that you have done,” he told The Jamaica Star. “You didn’t question anybody else when it was their time to negotiate, but you question a player that has given so much… I know my people and I know what I am fighting for is bigger than football. I am fighting for that breakthrough so people can no longer look at my countryman and be like, oh, we can get him for a penny or two. Pay him what he is worth.”

The 27-year-old Kingston native’s transition to Belgium has been slightly less smooth than Murillo’s. Prior to the COVID pandemic, Lawrence played a mere four minutes in six possible matches. Adjustment to a new country and breaking into a new club takes time. However, despite Anderlecht resuming training on June 15th, he reportedly has yet to return to Belgium due to “family reasons.” The club, managed by legendary Belgian international defender Vincent Kompany, is looking to sign a new left back as competition.

Anderlecht’s fullback situation appears to be in a partial state of flux. Murillo has locked down the right side, but the left back position is up for grabs as Lawrence has yet to stake his claim. It’s quite the departure from their tenure with the New York Red Bulls where the reverse was often the case. The 2020-2021 Jupiler Pro League season begins on August 7th. Once a Metro might keep you updated on it… might not. Depends what else is happening.