When Minnesota United acquired five new starters over the winter, it obtained four-time MLS All-Star Ozzie Alonso, 2017 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara, designated player Jan Gregus from the Danish Superliga and former Premier League goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Of the five, Romain Metanire probably was the least acclaimed and least known among everybody but the most knowledgeable of the fans.
A Madagascar national team member brought from France’s top league, Metanire has become in the season’s opening weeks anything but that from his right-back position.
Starting with the season opener at Vancouver on March 2, he impressed with his range, fitness and an instant chemistry with teammate Miguel Ibarra up and down that right side.
On Saturday, United coach Adrian Heath considered nobody better on an emotional afternoon of opening Allianz Field that delivered a swirl of color and noise and one point for the home team in a 3-3 draw with New York City FC.
“I thought Romain was outstanding,” Heath said. “I thought he was the best player on the field, I really do.”
With Ibarra out injured, Metanire teamed with midfielder Ethan Finlay instead on runs down that right flank that stretched NYCFC’s defense and was part of a fast pace set by both teams that Heath considered too open. Five of the game’s six goals were scored in the first 32 minutes, and by halftime United led 3-2.
Afterward, Heath called Metanire’s play and presence “incredible.”
“I don’t know what his physical stats will be,” Heath said. “But … he and Ethan Finlay down that side were really, really good in the first half. I don’t think we utilized that enough.”
At halftime, NYCFC changed its formation from a three-player back line to four and made its first strategic substitution, too, to address the pressure Metanire and Finlay created on that right side. Left back Tony Rocha came off and forward Alexandru Mitrita entered.
Despite a 3-2 halftime lead, the pace didn’t fit Heath’s liking or his heart rate.
“It’s never good,” Heath said when asked if his heart was pumping early. “The game was too open, too end-to-end. It had the feeling of a playoff game where somebody had to win the day.”
Heath attributed NYCFC’s halftime changes to Metanire’s energy and runs.
“Defensively, he was in good spots, and he attacked with incredible energy,” Heath said. “Him and Ethan worked really well down the right side in the first half. Obviously, that’s why they made the change they did.”
Metanire led United with 82 touches Saturday and was second to Gregus’ 44 passes with 40 of his own. He had three tackles and three fouls won, too.
So far, Metanire has been effective, efficient and versatile for the Loons in the season’s first six games. He moved from right back to a wing position a week ago in New York when Heath altered his formation and went with three backs instead of four.
Metanire also is creating a chemistry with Finlay as he did with Ibarra as well.
“Romain and I are starting to get more of a rapport, and we hope to build on that,” Finlay said. “I thought he was good. This guy is end-to-end, and you can see his service and the quality of his service and his ability to make a pass, even as a right back. He continues to improve week after week.”