OBETZ, Ohio — When Tony Tchani was in the starting lineup over the course of seven straight matches in May and into early June, it seemed that his time to feature for the Columbus Crew lineup had finally come.
But after a June 5 loss to Philadelphia, Tchani didn’t find himself in the starting lineup again until more than three months later.
Two solid substitute appearances for interim head coach Brian Bliss earned Tchani a starting role in central midfield in Saturday’s crucial victory in Montreal, and he says that working with Bliss has given him a new opportunity to play.
The Crew host the Chicago Fire on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, MLS Live).
“Since I’ve had a new coach, you just have to push differently,” Tchani told MLSsoccer.com after Crew training on Friday. “You have to work hard in training trying to be sure that whenever you get your chance you have to take it and hold it tight and try to never let it go.”
Tchani, a four-year MLS veteran, said that Bliss’ emphasis on positivity has been beneficial to him and the team as a whole.
“This is a coach that’s always going to push you hard,” he said. “Even if things don’t go right, he doesn’t try to bring you down. Before a game, he always tells us, ‘If you make one, two, three mistakes, make sure the fourth is a good one. Because that fourth one can be a game-changer.’”
For Bliss, Tchani’s development has come as a result of a challenge that the coach himself issued both in private and in front of the team
“Maybe something resonated with him in a team meeting, or maybe something resonated that I said out on the field,” Bliss said. “But I’ve also directly challenged him, in front of his peers, to be better on the defensive side of the ball and take care of the ball when he does have it because he’s a big guy with good feet. And he’s risen to the occasion.”
Tchani has teamed with young midfielder Wil Trapp to form what seems to be one of the best central midfield combinations the Crew has been able to offer in 2013. Trapp said that he likes the way Tchani plays, and that they work well together.
“I like playing with [Trapp] because he’s a player; he doesn’t want to just kick the ball, he wants to keep it,” Tchani agreed. “He wants to play passes. That’s the kind of player I am. I want to play. … I think the partnership is going well.”
Bliss said that the duo has done what the coaching staff has asked, and that Tchani’s rise in playing time has largely fallen on the player’s shoulders.
“I would say 90 percent of it has got to be him,” Bliss said. “He’s done well. And if he continues to do well, he’ll continue to get the minutes.”