ATLANTA — In Saturday’s 2-0 victory in Orlando, Jonathan Osorio scored a dazzling goal for Toronto FC, goalkeeper Quentin Westberg made some huge saves and Alejandro Pozuelo was his usual creative self in the midfield.
But it was centre back Chris Mavinga who was selected as Man of the Match, making some key plays defensively and almost hitting the back of the goal with a sensational scissor kick.
Last year was a struggle for the French-born Congolese defender, who appeared in only eight regular-season games for TFC because of injuries. But this season, Mavinga has bounced back in a big way and even though Toronto’s back line has struggled at times with Drew Moor being injured the past four games and newcomer Laurent Ciman still getting used to his new teammates, Mavinga has clearly established himself as one of the best centre backs in the MLS.
And he only wants to get better. He certainly wants to make it to the MLS all-star game this season.
“I want to be the best, but for me, maybe I can’t be the best if I’m not an all-star,” Mavinga said on Monday at the team hotel in Atlanta.
TFC coach Greg Vanney is certainly gratified with Mavinga’s return to form this year to that of his 2017 season, when in his rookie year he helped the Reds win the MLS Cup. Vanney believes the reason for resurgence is how the former French youth international prepared prior to pre-season camp.
Mavinga travelled to France in the off-season with his wife, Chrystelle, and their two-year-old, Mylla. But instead of just taking it easy visiting family and that sort of thing, he worked extremely hard to stay fit and amped up his training.
“He showed up a pre-season this year with a better base to start the year. I think last year, he didn’t have as strong an off-season because he came into pre-season not really fit and he got himself injured right in the pre-season and then never really got himself out of that rhythm,” Vanney said. “This year he approached things in a much better way and was able to have a successful pre-season. So physically I think he’s in a better position to have a successful year.”
Vanney said there are two types of players in pro sports. Those that use the off-season mostly to rest and re-charge, and those who approach the off-season as a way to get ahead of everybody else.
“I think Chris took note of that in this past off-season and used that to his advantage,” the coach said.
For his part, Mavinga said he loves playing in Toronto so much, he took Vanney’s advice to heart and worked harder than he ever did before.
Part of the reason he signed a multi-year extension last March was because he wants to stay with TFC for a long time. And the way he has started the 2019 campaign, he has certainly give the club it’s money’s worth.
“As long as Chris is connected and working with the guy next to him and there’s a good relationship there, then Chris can do the things he does well; which is, he’s a strong defender, makes good plays, covers things with his speed and he has a kind of toughness and nastiness that our team can use from time to time because we’re a team that likes to have the ball. Sometimes we don’t always have that physical presence that Chris will bring to our group,” Vanney said.
Mavinga said it was easy to motivate himself after his struggles in 2018.
“I played for many teams before and when I came to Toronto. I was not sure when I signed my first contract here (in Jan. 2017) whether I was going to stay or not because you never know in football,” Mavinga said. “But when you see you can win with a certain team, you feel confidence. Last year when I went back to Europe, I told my agent that I didn’t want (to go anywhere) else because here I’m very happy and my family is happy as well. (I re-signed) not because of the money.
“Maybe in Europe I can get more money, but now is about the life. You have to be happy and enjoy your life. You can get more money but if you’re not happy, you’re not going to play your best football. I played in so many countries before I came here. And when I came here I felt like this was the best for me.
“I love this place. That’s why I’m happy to play for this team,” he added. “I enjoy every moment. I know I am comfortable. For me, Toronto is one of the best cities in the world, so I’m very happy and proud to play for this team.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019