Posed with the age-old question whether to stay or go, Minnesota United outside defenders Francisco Calvo and Romain Metanire more often than not prefer the latter.
Their position defines their primary responsibility, but given the choice and the opportunity through the season’s first two games, each demonstrated the willingness and ability to counterattack down the sideline, deep into the opponent’s territory.
“It’s a big part of our game,” United midfielder Rasmus Schuller said. “It’s a big part of the modern game.”
Metanire has been something of a revelation at right back with his speed and aggression since he was acquired in January from France’s top league. Calvo, a Loon since 2017, prefers to play center back, but he has proven himself a dangerous complement from his left-back position to Metanire’s runs down the right side.
Metanire has provided chance upon chance with crossing passes into the box from the right wing while Calvo created a penalty-kick goal and scored one of his own in the season-opening 3-2 comeback victory at Vancouver. He also threatened to score near the goal in both games.
Teammate Ika Opara already has nicknamed Metanire, dusting off a little Latin to do so.
“Machina,” Opara said. “The machine, that’s Romain.”
If the name of the game is creating mismatches and outnumbering opponents in the field’s final third, United — with both Metanire and Calvo — has excelled so far.
“It’s important,” Calvo said. “Our main goal is to defend, and then if we can give something to the attack, it’s good. That’s how the fullbacks play, and if we can do it making the right decisions going forward, it’s good for the team.”
Judicious decisionmaking is vital. United coach Adrian Heath has second-guessed his left back at times, questioning Calvo’s ambitious inclination to push forward.
“Sometimes I look at him and think, ‘What’s he doing up there?’ ’’ Heath said. “And then other times, I go, ‘That’s why he’s up there.’ He likes to join. He wants to play. At times we have to remind him away from home, sometimes err on the side of caution. That’s something that’s not in his makeup as much.”
Calvo acknowledges he and Metanire — not to mention their coach — have an understanding that when one pushes forward, the other stays behind.
“He likes us to go forward, but in a smart situation,” Calvo said, referring to Heath. “Just don’t do dumb things. I know when I have to go and when I stay. I can’t run like Romain runs. He runs and gets back. I pick my moments. I know how to get to the right spots.”
The tactic demands more from center backs Opara and Michael Boxall, midfielders Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus — and maybe even the wingers ahead of them — to defend counterattacks when Metanire or Calvo ventures forward.
“It presents a few more challenges to keep the balance intact,” Opara said. “We have to be very good in the transition moments. It’s a free-flowing style of play that’s going to be very positive for a lot of guys. But with that are a lot of challenges defensively and a lot more work at times.”
United’s 2-0 record suggests the rewards have outdone the risks to date. The team has outscored opponents 6-2. Both goals allowed were on set pieces, not in general play.
“When you can attack from the back, it causes big problems for other teams,” Boxall said. “Calvo already has scored. Romain, I’ve lost count of how many top balls he has put into the opposite box. If we get more of that this season, it’ll be better for us.”