Veteran centre back Chris Mavinga, who spent the last six seasons with Toronto FC, has joined the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Mavinga has signed a two-year contract through the end of the 2024 MLS season.
“Chris brings experience, quality and more championship pedigree to our backline,” Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney, who was in charge of TFC when Mavinga came to MLS in January 2017, said in a statement Thursday.
Mavinga, a French-born Congolese international, ranks eighth in all-time appearances for Toronto with 153. Injuries restricted him to 19 regular-season games last season when he made US$1,037,500.
Mavinga came to Toronto from Russian side Rubin Kazan in January 2017, signing contract extensions in 2018 and 2020.
In 2017, Vanney called him the team’s “safety blanket.”
“Not only does he defend his space and his responsibilities, he has incredible recovery speed … when you think you’re exposed, Chris comes out of nowhere to make a play,” Vanney, a former elite defender himself, said at the time.
Toronto signed free agent centre back Matt Hedges last month to bolster a defence that tied a franchise record last year by conceding 66 goals during a disappointing 9-18-7 season that saw TFC finish 27th overall in the then-28-team league.
But Mavinga's departure leaves another hole to fill on a backline that was already left short after Carlos Salcedo returned to his native Mexico in July.
TFC also has veteran Shane O'Neill and Lukas MacNaughton at centre back.
While Mavinga's athleticism has never been in doubt, Toronto coach Bob Bradley made it clear last season that he wanted more consistency from him.
He pulled Mavinga at halftime of a 1-1 tie at FC Dallas in the 2022 season opener, later providing a pithy take on Mavinga's play.
"Chris is athletically a gifted player," Bradley said. "But if in certain moments you just rely on your athleticism, then you can still get caught in tough spots. I think we're just trying always to always get Chris to be a little more aware of different situations, read things a little bit better, make good decisions.
"But in a way that's what we try to do with everybody. so it's not like that's a special way of working just with Chris.''
Off the field, Mavinga wears his heart on his sleeve.
In August 2021, he took to Twitter to explain to Toronto supporters that he had missed a game due to his four-year-old daughter's seizure. And last July, he also used social media to apologize for a poor on-field performance, saying he had been struggling on and off the field with some family issues.
"Even with the help of the club it's been difficult for myself to play with a free mind. last season and through this season," he wrote.
In September, he revealed his second child also had had to deal with health problems and that he had considered retirement. In a club video, he thanked Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children for its help and fans for their support.
Mavinga, whose father is Congolese, started in the Paris Saint-Germain system at 14, working his way up to train with the first team at 17. After a coaching change blocked his path, he spurned an offer from Arsenal to join Liverpool at 18.
He did well in the Liverpool reserves and helped France win the under-19 European title in 2009-10. But he found himself shunted to the back in Liverpool after manager Rafa Benitez left.
He was loaned to Belgium’s Genk, making headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2011 in a title-deciding game in the season finale. Before the match, the media spotlight had been on the young Mavinga, who was determined to show he could handle the opposition.
Chasing a high-bouncing ball down the flank, he went to kick it while Standard Liege’s Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez bent down to try to get his head to it. The result was Mavinga catching Carcela-Gonzalez flush in the face with his boot. The Moroccan, who was knocked out on the play, suffered facial fractures and a concussion.
“Footballer suffers horror knockout,” was the English tabloid Sun headline.
Genk went on to win the game — and the title. While his teammates celebrated, Mavinga cried.
“This night was terrible for me,” he said.
While acknowledging it was a mistimed challenge without any malice, Bleacher Report still ranked it No. 42 among the 50 dirtiest tackles in world football in a 2012 list.
Wanting new pastures, he left Genk for France’s Rennes, where he played regularly and saw Europa League action.
He transferred to Rubin Kazan in 2013, a move he soon regretted. While he saw action there, the team changed coaches and eventually loaned him to France’s Reims and Troyes.
Returning to Russia, he went six months without a game. He told his agent he wanted a change, with a call from TFC opening a new door.
It was a rough landing in MLS. He was sick when he arrived in training camp and found himself going back and forth to France to be with his pregnant partner.
A former French youth international, Mavinga made his first Congolese debut in September 2015.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press