OBETZ, Ohio – After six seasons spent flummoxing coaches, Tony Tchani is in the midst of a breakout season for the Columbus Crew.
Prior to this year, the Cameroonian midfielder was best known for pairing flashes of promise with head-scratching performances.
But under the tutelage of first-year Crew Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, Tchani has thrived as the midfield partner of Wil Trapp. Perhaps the highlight of his season came in the Crew’s 1-0 win over the New England Revolution Saturday, when Tchani dominated the middle of the park against the likes of Scott Caldwell, Daigo Kobayashi, Lee Nguyen and eventually Jermaine Jones.
“What didn’t he do tonight?” Berhalter said after the match. “He won headers, he won tackles, he made passes for penalty kicks. He was phenomenal, but we’ve been saying that all along. He’s having a great season.”
And in training on Tuesday, Berhalter stressed the quest for consistency with Tchani.
“Our quest is to have him do that every game, no matter what the competition is,” the Crew manager said. “We’re working with him. He should be able to dominate most players in this league. He’s strong, he’s good on the ball, he has all those attributes…it’s a work in progress getting him to have the same mentality game in and game out.”
Tchani said after the game that he realized he could turn on the smaller Revs' midfielders and took advantage of it the entire match.
“I felt like the guys who were playing in the middle weren’t stronger than me,” he said. “So every time I had the ball, I just tried to make sure I could turn because I knew they weren’t stronger than me and I could take advantage of that…When I turned, I had so much space I could just keep driving because no one was in support to cover.”
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He doesn’t credit his strength for those turns though. Even against the likes of the stout Jones, Tchani credits his technique instead.
“It’s not about being small or big, it’s how you use your body,” he said. “I don’t think I’m that strong. People think I’m strong, but I don’t lift that much. I just use my body in the right way. I can play against Jermaine Jones – who I think is stronger than me – but I can make sure he doesn’t get the ball.”
And though he only got 45 minutes against him, Tchani admitted that he relished the chance to play against the World Cup star.
“That was something I was looking forward to,” he said. “Even when I didn’t see him in the lineup, I was ready for it if it happened. When I saw him in the second half I knew that was going to be a challenge, but I’m up for whatever challenge.”