Columbus Crew's Tony Tchani evolves from patchy project to midfield mainstay: "He's a guy we count on"

OBETZ, Ohio – For much of his career, Tony Tchani has been considered a project.

The Cameroonian midfielder has always had talent, as evidenced by the New York Red Bulls selecting him second overall in the 2010 MLS Superdraft, but his struggle has been stringing together consistent performances.

When Gregg Berhalter took over the Columbus Crew, he immediately identified Tchani as a key piece of his team, and said that the physically imposing midfielder just needed his confidence.

After 24 games of the 2014 season, Tchani has started every one, logging 2,132 minutes, fourth-most of any player in MLS. And he’s not just holding a position; he’s made the central midfield spot his own, impressing Berhalter along the way.

“I thought he’s had some really strong performances this year,” Berhalter said. “Let’s not forget, he’s leading the team in minutes. He’s a guy we count on. I know there’s been a lot of talk about Tony, but I really feel like we’ve gotten a lot out of him and he’s raising his game to a different level.”

Tchani had perhaps his best game of the season in the Crew’s 4-1 drubbing of the LA Galaxy Saturday, a performance that showcased his skills to much of the league.

While he didn’t want to grade himself, Tchani said he’s heard plenty of positives from the Crew coaching staff after the game.

“Based on what the coach told me, he said I had a good game,” Tchani said. “I don’t like to judge myself, so I always like to let people let me know how I did. From the feedback I had from my coaches and my teammates, I think I did pretty well.”

Getting to match up with the likes of Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho, he said, made him feel especially up for the match.

“When you play against a good team, you’re always ready,” he said. “You see their midfield – Juninho and Sarvas – and they’re really good midfielders. To compare myself to those guys, I have to step up and be the guy trying to make things happen. I don’t have to be the one to score, but I have to do the little things to help the team.”

But translating that performance to weekly success will require the same mindset.

“I just have to be up to it every single game,” he said. “Just go and try to do my best, and know that the guy I’m playing against, they’re not better than me…if I’m up against one guy who thinks he’s good, I’m always trying to step up my game.”

Tchani thinks he’s found the confidence that Berhalter said he needed. And rather than just another player, he feels like he’s an important man on the team.

“The fact that the coach always talks to me and tells me what he expects of me, and he plays me every game, I feel like I’m part of something on this team,” he said.

For Berhalter, Tchani has played his way into that role.

“You want to feel like you’re wanted,” Berhalter said. “In Tony’s case, he is wanted. He’s a guy we count on. He’s been doing a great job. You have to earn that, and I think he’s done that.”