When a defender makes a big last-ditch tackle there are some clichés that tend to creep into the narrative. The word “athletic” is almost always used to describe the tackle. Then analysts delve into what went wrong elsewhere to warrant such desperate defending.
Both of those statements are probably true about Chris Mavinga’s multiple challenges during Toronto FC’s quarterfinal CONCACAF Champions League aggregate victory over Tigres. It is also not giving Mavinga nearly enough credit for what was an incredible defensive display.
Mavinga’s big tackles are almost always greeted with an exhale and something like “if he gets that wrong he’s off”. Only, he almost never gets it wrong, having never been sent off during his time at Toronto FC. Instead, they are calculated movements, timed perfectly.
On a team with no shortage of players who make headlines, Mavinga might be Toronto’s best-kept secret. Only now it seems is the rest of the continent is clueing into what those at BMO Field have long known: Mavinga is something special.
Just as Giovinco provided heroics offensively against Tigres, Mavinga did so on the other side of the ball. Between the two legs, he completed an impressive eight steals, many of which were vital interventions against one of the best attacks in the region.
He very rarely putting his team in trouble. Mavinga only had two fouls over the two legs. That’s impressive, considering Toronto FC as a team combined for 27 overall. As much as it was athletic, it was intelligent and disciplined defending.
It isn’t much of a coincidence that Toronto’s backline looked considerably worse when Mavinga was forced off with a groin injury — whether he will miss time or not isn’t yet known — in the 61st minute of last night’s second leg. TFC, who had bent but not broken up until that point would concede three goals in the next thirty minutes. They no longer had someone to clean up the mistakes they were making.
Both Eriq Zavaleta and especially Drew Moor had tough outings. In the 24th minute, Zavaleta was beaten by Andre-Pierre Gignac down the touchline, who passed the ball into the 6-yard box for what looked to be a sure goal. Only, Mavinga anticipated the move and blocked the shot. Had that ball crossed the line it would have been a completely different game, one that very likely wouldn’t have ended well for Toronto.
Toronto FC didn’t have much of the ball in last night’s second leg, but when they did Mavinga did very well in possession. He only made one unsuccessful pass, with an overall pass success percentage of 94%. Oh, and he also did stuff like this...
It wasn’t an entirely perfect two legs from Mavinga. The lone Tigres away goal saw him allow Eduardo Vargas to get past him. He’s certainly prone to mistakes like this from time to time, as is any defender especially against an attacker of that quality. But take in his body of work and that mistake quickly gets drown out in positives.
For that body of work, the 26-year-old Mavinga was awarded a multi-year contract extension earlier this month meaning the club’s best defender will be around for the foreseeable future. This after silly offseason drama that had many believing cryptic tweets from Mavinga were hinting at a move to rival Montreal Impact.
From all evidence, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It seems that nobody on the Toronto FC team is happier to win trophies than Mavinga, when he gets his hands on them he hardly lets them go. Based on his social media posts and interviews he is very much enjoying his time with the club.
After last night’s win, he posted a tweet with the hashtag #MoreToCome. That’s what Toronto will need if they are to continue in this competition while coming anywhere near what they accomplished last season. Mavinga has become that integral to the club.