Newly acquired Toronto FC centre back Aime Mabika hard to miss at six foot six
TORONTO — At six foot six, Toronto FC’s newest defender is hard to miss. Aime Mabika comes with a good story as well.
Born in Zambia to Congolese parents, Mabika was seven or eight when his family moved to the United States. Soccer was always his game and he was part of a championship-calibre high school team in Lexington, Ky., before making the University of Kentucky team as a walk-on.
At Kentucky, Mabika was named Conference USA player of the year and co-defensive MVP. He started 53 of 62 career appearances, scored 10 goals (including two game-winners) and added two assists, while helping the Wildcats to record 28 shutouts.
Mabika, whose name is pronounced Am-AY Mer-BEE-kar, also took penalties.
Kentucky head coach Johan Cedergren called Mabika “probably be one of the biggest steals in college soccer history."
"I know he will have a very long and successful professional career.”
That started when he was selected by Inter Miami CF in the first round (26th overall) in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft
On Tuesday, Mabika joined Toronto in a trade from Miami in exchange for up to US$200,000 in general allocation money and a sell-on percentage in case of a future transfer.
"It kind of came out of the blue," Mabika, referencing the trade, said Thursday after his first training session in TFC colours.
"I went into training (with Miami) on Monday not knowing anything. And then after training is kind of when I got the news. So I think whirlwind is probably a good word for it. I was talking to someone yesterday (and) I was like 'I started the week in Miami and ending it in Toronto.' And then I realized it's only (Wednesday). It's happened pretty quickly over the last couple of days but I'm super-excited to be here."
Toronto (1-2-6) hosts New York (4-2-3) on Saturday, looking to rid the taste of a subpar performance in a 4-2 loss at Philadelphia last Saturday.
The 24-year-old Mabika, who speaks Swahili (one of the main language in the Democratic Republic of Congo) and still understands Nyanja (Zambia), comes with a smile that matches his height in size.
"I know I'll probably get this question during my time here — the basketball question," he said, unprompted. "I did play basketball when I was younger and I enjoy basketball. It's my second favourite sport. I enjoy playing it when I can and I enjoy watching it."
He made his debut for Zambia in a 3-1 win over Congo in a friendly March 25, 2022.
The youngest — and tallest — of four kids, Mabika took the LSATs four days before the MLS SuperDraft and says law school could be in his future, once soccer is done.
"For that two months leading up to the draft, it was really just train for two hours, study for eight hours," he said.
After being drafted, he signed for Fort Lauderdale CF (now Inter Miami CF II), making 14 starts and serving as captain for much of the 2021 USL League One regular season. He also made two MLS appearances for Inter Miami on short-term loans in 2021.
Mabika, who is listed at 214 pounds, is wearing No. 6 for Toronto, which once belonged to Dom Dwyer, Maurice Edu, Julian de Guzman and Nick Hagglund, among others. He also wore No. 6 at Kentucky and Inter Miami, among other numbers.
The number resonates for him.
Hs birthday is on the 16th, he is six foot six and moved to the U.S in 2006. And now he calls the Six home.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press