Whitecaps say trade for Tony Tchani fills midfield need, frees up cap space

Tony Tchani, Columbus Crew SC

VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Whitecaps are looking to get better, as a winless start to the season has put them in a tough position.

Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson is painfully aware of the fact and the search has been urgently on for players to help improve the team. He hopes to have found one in Tony Tchani, who was acquired by Vancouver from Columbus Crew SC in a massive deal on Thursday that saw Kekuta Manneh head in the opposite direction.

The end result is that Robinson boosts his midfield options, giving his team the kind of powerful central midfield presence he feels the ‘Caps have been severely lacking, even if that meant having to give up one of the Whitecaps' most iconic players to get the deal done. Timing is everything, and Robinson feels this was the right time to move Manneh on.

"Tony brings a different quality, a connector type player that I've been looking for," Robinson told reporters at Whitecaps training on Friday. "Since I lost Gershon Koffie last year, I've been trying to identify a player that I wanted."

"Kekuta's had a really good four and a half years here. I've really enjoyed working with him. We've had some ups and downs as we've gone along the way, but I think he needed a fresh challenge. When I'm able to fill a need for my team and also generate some other assets to be able to fill a hole, then you've got to give something up."

It was a trade that surprised many. Manneh could be a game changer, but he could also disappear in matches, lacking the consistency to truly take him to the next level many feel he is capable of reaching. And with his contract expiring at the end of the year, and no deal done on a new one, the Whitecaps risked losing him for nothing down the line.

As electric as Manneh could be to the ‘Caps attack, Robinson has a number of wingers at his disposal. What the Whitecaps have lacked is a true box-to-box midfielder. It was a glaring hole, and one that has been shown up fully this season.

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi revealed that talks with Columbus had been ongoing for around six weeks. He's hoping Tchani can make an immediate impact as the 0-2-1 ‘Caps try to turn their MLS fortunes around.

"He definitely fits a positional need for us," Lenarduzzi said of Tchani. "We've been lacking midfielders that can go box-to-box. We have some good midfielders but don't have any that can specifically play that role. Ideally he comes in and hits the ground running and makes us a better team as a result of the trade."

Robinson knows Tchani from his playing days with the New York Red Bulls, describing the Cameroonian international as a player that "lets his football do the talking on the pitch" and a “modern No. 8.”

Tchani is delighted to head to Vancouver to play under someone he knows well, revealing that Robinson pushed him in training in New York and was a player he looked up to. He’s even more delighted with the chance to get playing again, having fallen out of favor with Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter.

Tchani hasn’t played a minute yet this season, but after flying in to Vancouver on Thursday night and training on Friday, both he and Robinson expect him to at least be involved in the gameday squad versus the LA Galaxy on Saturday night (10 pm ET | MLS LIVE in US, TSN1 in Canada).

“Every single player is looking to be at least in the 18 or have some playing time,” Tchani told reporters. “I’ve [not] been playing for like a month. It’s difficult. I think I’m pretty fit because I’ve been training every single week. In the weekend when I wasn’t playing I was doing some extra work with people not in the 18, so I think I’m pretty fit.”

The trade with Columbus didn’t just bring Tchani to Vancouver, however. The Whitecaps got $225,000 in Targeted Allocation Money, $75,000 in General Allocation Money, and some future considerations depending on what may happen with Manneh down the line.

That money won’t be sitting in the ‘Caps coffers for long, and they’re already eyeing up a couple of attacking targets to use it on.

“[The allocation money] provides us with the flexibility within our cap," Lenarduzzi revealed. "We were pretty much up to the number prior to, but now we have that ability to look at potentially another signing and ideally that would be something we're looking at doing in the striker position."