Chris Mavinga, quite frankly, did not look ready.
Toronto FC have had their new centre-back in their practice lineup on a regular basis for about a month now in a bid to get him on the same page as the rest of the defensive unit and prepared to start an MLS game.
Greg Vanney decided to take the plunge against Atlanta United on Saturday night, dropping the dependable Nick Hagglund to the bench to bring Mavinga in on the left side of the back three. The DR Congo international was a non-factor at best and off the pace at worst.
Most notably, he was twice beaten to balls played behind him for forward Hector Villalba to net Atlanta’s two goals. The second was especially ugly, with Leandro Gonzalez Pirez launching a pass forward from not far outside the visitors’ penalty area that became a Villalba one-on-one with Alex Bono. Mavinga just about kept up with the Argentine but allowed the much smaller player to get his body in front of him with ease.
Vanney pulled no punches when asked for his assessment and the reasoning behind Mavinga’s substitution four minutes after Villalba’s second goal. “I thought, on the two plays, [he was] way too slow to read the action and see what was going on,” the Toronto coach said.
“No matter how fast you are as a human being, if you don’t pick up on the plays early enough you’re not going to make up the ground. For me, as of tonight he wasn’t ready for the speed of the action in the transition. He didn’t pick up the reads. We’ve got to keep working with him and keep developing him and keep pushing him to recognise those moments and yeah, he’ll get another shot down the road.”
It sounded like the account of someone who would like to spark a response out of Mavinga and accelerate his adaptation to MLS, but it might also be argued that Vanney did not do his player any favours by throwing him in for this particular match. Villalba and Miguel Almiron, both quality players, seemed to suss that Mavinga may not be entirely comfortable quite quickly.
The 25-year-old completed 51 minutes with no aerial duels contested, no tackles or interceptions made and just 14 passes attempted - the lowest total among starters on either side. Drew Moor, however - ever the consummate professional - was unwilling to make a scapegoat of his new defensive partner.
“It’s not just Chris Mavinga - it’s myself, it’s Eriq Zavaleta, it’s not getting enough pressure on the ball,” Moor said. “I thought he was very bright in moments, I thought he was good on the ball, but I take just as much blame as he does on both goals.”
It’s far too early to write Mavinga off but while Victor Vazquez has been an instant hit, the winter’s other major signing would appear to have a lot of work to do.