After a week of speculation, Minnesota United finally filled the lone spot in its lineup without a returning or expected starter on Friday: Romain Metanire signed a TAM-level deal via transfer from Ligue 1 side Stade de Reims. Born and raised in France, the right back, who turns 29 in March, spent all but one year of his pro career between Reims and FC Metz in his home country, with a brief spell at Belgian side Kortrijk. He also recently emerged as the starting full back for the Madagascar national team, and is a recent veteran of a league-dominating Ligue 2 champion, where Reims allowed just 24 goals—tied for the fewest allowed for a season in the division in over a decade.
Comment va-t-il traduire en MLS? C’est difficile à dire.
While it’s unclear if his link to animated zoo animals will generate as much social media content as his predecessor at right back, Metanire actually profiles well and ahead of Jerome Thiesson. He’s defensively stout, athletically keeps up and pushes his marks to the outside while tracking back for interventions on runs underneath. When unleashed going forward, he’s got a solid long pass on him, running deep into the attacking third and crossing from the end line while showing a flair for finding players for headers in the box. He’s a quality short distributor as well, and flashes technical ball skills here and there.
The big plus for Metanire during his time at Reims was his ability to control wingers, forcing them to try and beat him with skill versus raw pace. The strength for a lot of teams in France is in fast wings with ball skills that would let them play centrally anywhere else—think Kylian Mbappe at PSG, sure, but also Nicolas Pepe at Lille or Florian Thauvin at Marseille. With the emphasis on quality wing play in France, Metanire has had to lock down the right flank to prevent chance creation, forcing wingers to play through the center.
For the most part, when he’s been on the field for Reims this year, he’s done just that. Against the Patrick Vieira-led Nice, Metanire’s mark, Allan St.-Maximin, was all but restricted to short passes when he got the ball in the final third, only having success in shots on target and key passes when running through midfield toward the center backs. The same happened to his mark against Lyon: Memphis Depay’s only shots to go on target were from the top center of the 18-yard box.
The hope is that he can do similar work in MLS, another league where the wing is a place of strength for many teams. The concern is that unless Metanire plays up his ability quickly enough to dissuade teams from using their left flank to attack—thankfully, per WhoScored, only eight of 23 teams preferred left side attacking to right—teams might pick up on one of the more vulnerable parts of his game. In the tape I was able to watch of him this past year, Metanire tended to get beat goal-side near the top of the 18-yard box, which helped lead to more of those chances from his marks coming from interior runs. Communication will be key with his right center back to prevent those runs getting into the box.
Another potential issue for Metanire will be getting back into regular playing sharpness after little recent playing time. In his third straight start of the year for Reims, Metanire saw red late in the first half against Amiens for an admittedly reckless tackle. He was subsequently replaced in the lineup by Thomas Foker, a younger back brought in from Belgium’s Gent near the end of the transfer window. Foker proceeded to play the full 90 minutes in all but one of Reims’ next eighteen matches. The lone time Metanire saw the starting eleven afterward? A midweek game away to Paris Saint-Germain. Feel free to speculate how that went as you squint to see #15:
It actually was a fairly solid game for Metanire, holding backup winger Moussa Diaby to a single assist while switching out to mark an alternate run, completing seven tackles, and getting a fair amount of defensive interventions in the process. PSG’s third goal came on a player in his zone, but failing to make that sort of reaction play on a goalkeeping mistake is excusable for everyone else in the team. After that, however, Metanire has only played twice for the team: ninety minutes in a League Cup loss to Orleans and a late-game cameo against Lille.
A third problem—less so for him than the Loons—is his international commitments. Madagascar’s national team, for whom Metanire qualifies via his grandmother, is already through to next summer’s African Cup of Nations with one qualifier match to go in March. Taking place during the same time frame as the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Minnesota are scheduled for six games during the tournament and the likely time frame that he’d be in a pre-tournament camp. Fans of European teams might be familiar with AFCON being a mid-winter annoyance for teams relying on African players in key positions, particularly that after a group stage, sixteen of twenty-four teams go to the knockout round; responding to criticism (and despite summer heat concerns), the African Football Confederation moved it to the European summer break, making things all the more difficult for an MLS team that will already be short its likely fullback partner in Francisco Calvo.
That being said, it seems like Minnesota United have the precise set of problems they want to have. In bringing in Metanire, they have someone who plays along with the style Adrian Heath demands from his fullbacks: push the opponent to inopportune spaces, then look to support the offense in the final third. The supposed weakness in his game—allowing players to cut inside with the ball—can be smoothed over by having a quality defensive midfielder to bail him out, which Minnesota got with Osvaldo Alonso. Metanire may be out of match sharpness, but he’s had a relatively recent summer break and can come in with fewer recent miles on his legs. Needing to plan for a player being absent for regular international duty means you have a player worth call ups to an international squad.
The caveat for his signing is that Minnesota shouldn’t expect to be done in the market for full back help. Both Carter Manley and Chase Gasper are raw talents at this point who should look for playing time at Forward Madison before planning to ride the bench in the match day 18—while Wyatt Omsberg eventually built confidence and looks good so far per preseason reports, his development was no doubt stunted by needing to make numbers for the senior side. Eric Miller hasn’t signed, which suggests that the Loons are still trying to find a backup for both right and left back. In comments about the signing published by the Pioneer Press, Adrian Heath mentioned needing at least two to three more players to come in for starting positions. Metanire certainly fits one of those positions, but the signing eye needs to be further down the roster as well.