Romain Metanire Slide Tackle

Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth.” He was, of course, talking about leverage, and the lever — one of the three original simple machines. What a machine gives you is mechanical advantage, force amplification. And that’s precisely what Romain Metanire has provided Minnesota United every time he’s set foot on the field this season. Give the Malagasy defender a place to run on the right flank and he’ll move the Earth.

With the likes of Osvaldo Alonso and Ike Opara joining the team in the offseason — two players with championship cred who could each lay claim to the title of best defender in MLS at various points in their careers — it was a bit surprising to find that in the early part of the season, Metanire was perhaps the most essential addition. As the team struggled to find connections and continuity down its left flank or consistency through the middle, Metanire proved a perpetual motion machine on the right side. No sooner would he blow past Ethan Finlay on an overlap deep into the right wing than he would be back at the other end of the field, snuffing out an attack with a timely slide tackle.

There might be nothing more beautiful for those who appreciate the underappreciated in a Minnesota United game than Metanire running down an attacker, going to ground, and smoothly hooking the ball back the other direction. Often, his man wouldn’t even fall but instead kept going, seemingly without noticing the theft, while Metanire sprang up and peeled out for the opponent’s half. Once in the clear, he would launch early crosses with pace and movement that found their target again and again. It’s the reason he’s second in assists on the team with six despite not playing a game for MNUFC in a month and a half.

Sometimes, they even just go in.

In early June, the right back left the states to represent Madagascar in the country’s first appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations and there was doubtless some hope that he would return in short order. Metanire had other plans, though. Madagascar won its group, then advanced through the Round of 16 by defeating the DR Congo. The island nation’s run ended in the quarterfinals against Tunisia, sending Metanire back to a very different MNUFC team than he left.

The last game he played for the Loons was the team’s 3-2 loss to Philadelphia Union on June 2 — the team’s only home loss so far this season — and it followed closely on the heels of a tough 3-0 loss on the road to Atlanta where a 1-0 game quickly unraveled in stoppage time. But after an away loss to Colorado, MNUFC has gone on a run, winning seven games in a row across all competitions, including advancing to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup, destroying FC Cincinnati 7-1 and holding off tough challenges from Western Conference opponents in the San Jose Earthquakes and FC Dallas. Rookie Chase Gasper has turned in terrific performances across the pitch from Metanire’s right back position, while fellow rookie Hassani Dotson has filled in admirably for the Malagasy defender. Second-year player Mason Toye has also blossomed, giving Metanire another option for his deadly crosses from the right wing.

Oh and while he was away, Metanire was added to the MLS All-Star team that will face Atlético Madrid on July 31.

Prior to Metanire’s departure, Head Coach Adrian Heath was not shy about labeling him the team’s best player through the first part of the season. Since then, the Loons have only improved, plumbing their depth, playing their kids and scoring 27 goals in their last seven games. Sometimes, a team enjoying success without one of its best players can cause problems when they return. Don’t bet on that happening with Metanire. Even when he was the most productive player on the pitch, it was not “his” team. He demanded neither touches nor attention, but simply commanded them, forcing opposing teams to adjust until they broke.

Based on the recent results, Minnesota United should have to lean a bit less on its dynamic right back, but it seems unlikely that the player whose teammates call “The Machine” will back down. Like any good machine, he provides force amplification and mechanical advantage, and like the Terminator he absolutely will not stop, ever.