VANCOUVER – For two new teammates still getting to know each other, Minnesota United goalkeeper Vito Mannone spent the Loons’ season-opening victory at Vancouver staring at defender Romain Metanire’s back and heels all afternoon while he ran away from him.
United management believed it moved the needle in the offseason with five acquisitions: four-time MLS All-Star Ozzie Alonso, 2017 league Defender of the Year Ike Opara, Slovakia national team member Jan Gregus and Mannone, whose Premier League experience includes playing before 84,000-plus spectators at London’s Wembley Stadium.
But of all the performances Saturday, Metanire’s was as influential as any of them in a 3-2 victory, United’s first on the road in nearly a year.
“He has done brilliant, defensively and offensively,” Mannone said. “He gave everything. He pushed forward in the right moment and played balls in. At the same time, he was composed tracking back. He had to deal with a fast winger, and I thought he did very well with that.”
Metanire arrived from club Stade Reims in France’s top league, sought by the Loons at age 28 to fill a right-back spot with enough speed to defend fleet opposing forwards and relentless enough to counterattack by pushing the ball from the back end down the right flank.
He attacked repeatedly Saturday by pushing deep into Vancouver territory, where he played ball after ball from out wide toward teammates on the run in the penalty area, even if none of those attempts resulted in a goal. Metanire’s cross-seeking striker, Romario Ibarra, came close in the 19th minute on an afternoon when the Loons scored three unanswered goals between two Whitecaps scores — each off a set piece, one early (sixth minute) and one late (81st minute).
Officially, Metanire created one scoring chance while he also displayed some quickly formed chemistry with midfielder Miguel Ibarra, particularly in the first half.
“You saw him today in both halves. He was outstanding,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “Him and Miggy [Ibarra] on the right-hand side with some combination play that was outstanding. He’s a really good crosser of the ball as well. He’s going to be a big plus for us.”
Metanire’s ability and willingness to attack is intended to outnumber the opposition in scoring positions and create the kind of mismatches Heath seeks. His 91 touches among United players trailed only midfielders Alonso and Gregus, the two players through whom everything flows. They had 97 touches each.
“He’s a great right back, definitely what we brought him here for,” United star forward Darwin Quintero said.
Born in France and a member of Madagascar’s national team, Metanire understands much of what his English-speaking teammates say and knows some English.
But as his play Saturday suggested, he speaks with his feet and with his head soccer’s universal language.
“Romain, the few things I see of him, he’s amazing,” said United defender Francisco Calvo, whose aggressiveness from the left-back position also contributed to his team’s first two goals Saturday. That included a header he scored for a 2-1 Loons lead in the 66th minute.
“He has a lot of skills, offensively and defensively. He’s going to bring a lot of good things to this club.”