After serving as a rotational player in his first two seasons with the Crew, Tony Tchani is now playing a major role in the Black & Gold's early success in 2014 as a force in the Columbus midfield.
WIth the fresh perspective of first-year Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, Tchani knew he'd have his chance to be a regular starter in 2014. However, it was no easy task as the Cameroonian-born midfielder fought through a preseason injury to earn a spot in Berhalter's starting XI.
"Tony had a little bit of an injury in the beginning of the season and he just kept fighting, kept working through it," Berhalter said of the midfielder. "He's been doing great. "
Added Tchani: "I always try to work hard every day to prove to the new coach that I deserve to be [in the starting lineup]. It wasn't easy. In the offseason I had an injury, but now it's fine. I got lucky that I got to play a few preseason games to show the coaching staff that I deserve to be out there."
Paired with Wil Trapp centrally, Tchani has helped the Crew midfield become one of MLS's best in keeping possession. The key, Tchani says, is the understanding he has with his running mate.
"We're playing so well because Wil is a guy that likes to sit and I'm like a box-to-box guy," he said. "I like being next to Wil when we're playing defense. When we're on offense, I'm a little bit higher. It's worked pretty well so far. "
Tchani's play on the field has resulted in-part thanks to the confidence Berhalter has instilled in him. Hailed as a "players' coach" when he was hired in November, Berhalter has found a way to get the most of each player in his squad.
"He's a coach that is always coming in and talking to the guys," Tchani said of his coach. "Not only the starters, but also the guys that may not play or the guys on the bench. He always talks to the guys and makes them comfortable. He makes the guys feel like they all have a chance. If someone else is not playing, it's their turn to step up and do the same job."
Even Tchani's teammates have taken notice of his increased role and the leadership that has come of it.
"He's matured as a player," Josh Williams complimented Tchani. "That's something I think Gregg had something to do with, he had a big part of it: just staying focused for 90 minutes, just always being there picking up his teammates. In the center of the park, you have to be a leader of some sort. He's not much of a vocal kind of guy. He just let's his play do the talking.
"He's been more of a leader, a field general."
MLSsoccer.com's Dan Haiek and Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle preview the second Columbus Crew vs. D.C. United match of 2014. Can D.C. keep Federico Higuain quiet? Does D.C. United look like a playoff team in the early going?
Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter addresses the media following Thursday's training session at Crew Stadium.
Matt Lampson teamed up with San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Sam Cronin Sunday afternoon to give two San Jose area families a memorable trip to Buck Shaw Stadium.
Cherry Aslorona and Maria Naranjo were honored as LLS Heroes watched the match and then made their way to the field for the final minutes before meeting with both Cronin and Lampson post-match.
Looking to continue the Hero program that Lampson started during the 2013 season, the goalkeeper will be working with LLS to invite a child and their family to every home and away match during the 2014 season.
Inside the Crew host Neil Sika joins Matt Finkes on 95.5 The Game's BIG Show every Wednesday for "Sika The Truth."
The Crew remain near the top of this week's Power Rankings following its 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes. The Black & Gold's highest mark is on Sports Illustrated's Planet Fútbol list, coming in at the number two spot behind Real Salt Lake. See the full rankings below.
MLSsoccer.com: 5 (4)
ESPNFC: 6 (5)
Steve Clark's diving save against Chris Wondolowski is nominated for MLS Save of the Week honors. Clark is up against Chivas USA's Dan Kennedy, LA's Jaime Penedo, FC Dallas' Chris Seitz and D.C. United's Andrew Dykstra for the top save of Week Six.
Voting runs until 11:59 p.m. PT on Thursday.
Ashleigh Ignelzi joined Matt Finkes on The BIG Show on 95.5 The Game for Massive Monday following the Crew's draw in San Jose.