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Mavinga’s return worth the wait for Toronto FC

Mavinga’s return worth the wait for Toronto FC
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All methods that will hopefully prevent injury, though the Toronto FC defender admits some techniques are more peculiar than others.

“Sometimes you need to change your shoes ... I need to change this boot and maybe this boot is going to help me to not get injured anymore,” he said with a laugh.

Mavinga made his long-awaited return to the Reds’ starting 11 for last week’s win over Orlando City SC, after months of dealing with a sports hernia. He had played just 210 league minutes heading into Friday night’s home date against FC Dallas and admitted being away from the team for so long was “hard times” and “not very good,” both physically and psychologically.

“It was everything: my head, my body,” Maving said. “Sometimes in my head I was feeling I was ready to go, but after some training I started to feel it again. It was a difficult time because I know the team wanted me back to the field. I wanted the same, to be back to the field, but at the same time my body was not ready.”

It’s not the first time the 26-year-old Frenchman has been out of TFC’s lineup for an extended period. At the 10-game mark last year, he had played even less —155 minutes, thanks in large part to a groin injury.

But Mavinga went on to appear in 26 regular-season games and all five playoff matches. That he was left out of the conversation for Major League Soccer defender of the year at the end of 2017 was a surprise to his teammates and coaches after he became a stalwart in the backline, known for his athleticism and ability to perfectly time a last-gasp tackle.

Toronto hopes Mavinga can bounce back the same way this year, and quickly — especially with another defensive mainstay, Drew Moor, out with a quadriceps strain. The Reds backline has also been bolstered of late by the return of fellow centre back Eriq Zavaleta, who had also suffered from a quadriceps strain. Nick Hagglund (hamstring) was listed as questionable for Friday night’s match, but has returned to full training with the team.

Mavinga, for one, is confident the issues are behind him.

“Now I feel comfortable, I feel ready. I don’t think about this. I just put it behind me and just focus for now to get ready and fit on the field,” he said.

Upon his return against Orlando, Toronto’s back four looked significantly different than it did for much of last season. Zavaleta lined up next to him in the middle of the defence, but the fullbacks — Auro and Gregory van der Wiel — are still relatively new, having signed with the Reds in the off-season. Before that match, Mavinga had played just 67 minutes alongside Auro and none with van der Wiel.

Still, the transition was seamless thank to the quality and experience of the players around him, Mavinga said. And more than a year into his TFC tenure, he is happy to act as a leader in defence, making sure the backline is communicating as it should be, despite a lack of playing time together thus far.

“It’s easy for me to come back and play with these guys because (I) know how they play and they know how I’m playing, so it’s easy for us to play together, even when we change the formation and change the players.”
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