Things are looking up for Chris Mavinga. The 26-year-old’s Toronto FC career started with the birth of his first child and the complications of moving a new family over to Canada from France, and it perhaps should not have been a surprise when he endured a tough first start against Atlanta United as a result.
Mavinga has got better and better since then, though, and his performance against the Montreal Impact on Wednesday night was possibly the best of his TFC career thus far. Against a fast, counter-attacking Montreal side, the centre-back’s speed and ability to recover when Toronto’s defensive line was broken was invaluable.
On Thursday, he explained that his decision to come to MLS was motivated by a desire to play in the central role he has occupied with the Reds. In Europe, Mavinga had primarily played as a left-back over the past few seasons despite a glittering youth career with Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and France in the centre of defence.
“Many wonder why I decided to play in MLS,” Mavinga posted on Twitter.
“Quite simply, Toronto FC ‘freed me’ and wanted to give me back in my natural position where I clearly feel better. I see Chris ‘he was so good when he was young now nothing more’ but PSG U17 best defender of an international tournament in center back, Team France U19 European champion in CB, Under-21 my best game was in CB.
“In Troyes more recently my best game was against Montpellier in CB.
“In Reims and Troyes I showed my limits to this post (position). In Europe I have never been able to express myself at my natural position so I would never thank enough the Toronto FC to have me among to find myself on the field and regain some pleasure.”
Recruiting European players like Mavinga - and Sebastian Giovinco - who have been edged out of their natural positions in more demanding leagues is a clever strategy on TFC’s part. Strikers and central defenders with proven track records in Europe are unlikely to come to MLS in their prime years, but taking a gamble on talented players who have found themselves, for one reason or another, shifted to the wing or full-back can pay dividends.
Mavinga’s physical tools and technical skill always made him an intriguing prospect and while he still has room to improve, his progress in terms of his positioning and reading of the game over the past few weeks has been promising. Like Nick Hagglund, he has the athleticism to hold down the space that can be left open behind two attacking wing-backs in Justin Morrow and Raheem Edwards.