TORONTO – After falling a fingertip short of the 2016 MLS Cup title and returning most of their core for 2017, it appeared there was relatively little for Toronto FC to address in the offseason.
Enter Chris Mavinga.
Signed on Jan. 31, the French-born, Congolese-international defender was recruited to plug that roster gap.
“He's settled in very well,” said head coach Greg Vanney last Wednesday. “He played a bit in the last game [of TFC's California-based training stint, a 2-1 loss to Cal State Fullerton].
“His instincts are good; he's an experienced defender. Very athletic, can step in and win balls quickly, get transitions going the other way, covers a lot of territory. He knows how to use his body, takes proper angles, all those good things. Adds another guy that is a bit different than the rest of our group. And he's naturally left-footed, which gives us some balance.”
Tosaint Ricketts concurred, adding: “It's always good to add someone with his experience in Europe.”
At 25 years old, Mavinga has already seen more than a lot of soccer players his age.
A youth international for France at Paris Saint-Germain, he moved to Liverpool FC as a teenager before a lack of first-team opportunities saw him progress through several clubs before landing in Russia with FC Rubin Kazan. A few more loan spells later, Mavinga was ready for a new challenge.
“I wanted to come to MLS,” Mavinga told MLSsoccer.com through a translator – TFC's Clement Simonin, himself vying for a spot with the club. “My agent got me in touch with [a] consultant at MLS. He proposed me to TFC, they liked my profile, so we got to talk and next thing I'm here.”
Now firmly in place with his new side, Mavinga is very happy with his decision.
“It's been a good week,” he said. “The team has been very helpful, everybody has been real nice, so [the transition] has been easy.”
One of many 20-somethings becoming the new face of the MLS transfer scene, Mavinga is not concerned by the challenges that usually haunt newcomers, believing his experience will serve him well.
“[I got] used to traveling in Russia, the distances are very long,” he said. “And I've also played in cold weather, so I'm used to adapting myself to different environments. It's true, jet lag is not helpful when you play on the West Coast, but [I can] adapt myself to any situation.”
Mavinga is no stranger to confidently stepping outside his comfort zone to seek opportunity. Beyond his forays to England and Russia, he made the decision to represent his father's homeland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rather than France on the senior international stage.
Mavinga made his debut for the Leopards in 2015, during qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations. Though he was not part of the nation’s 2017 AFCON squad, he plans on showcasing his value with outstanding performances with Toronto.
“My objective is to get into the team here, play,” he said. “[The national team] is obviously in my head, especially since we're in a good way to qualify for the next World Cup in Russia. It will come to playing good games for TFC and then I hope for a call.”
MLS has proved fertile ground for rising African talent recently. Montreal's Ambroise Oyongo won the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations with Cameroon and Colorado's Micheal Azira represented Uganda, while both Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful of Columbus were in the recent Ghanaian squad.
“The fact the league is bringing more good players [alerts] players like us, who come to MLS and want to excel on the international stage as well,” explained Mavinga. “It's a good fit for our ambitions.”