One of the biggest surprises of Columbus Crew SC’s opening day 18-man roster was the absence of midfielder Tony Tchani.
The eight-year veteran has been more or less a constant fixture in the center of the park under Gregg Berhalter. Over the first three seasons of the head coach’s tenure, Tchani appeared in 86 of 102 possible Major League Soccer games (starting 85 of them).
The Black & Gold added to the central midfield depth in the offseason, bringing in Ghanaian Mohammed Abu and Brazilian Artur.
In the preseason, it became apparent that Abu would start alongside Wil Trapp in the two central midfield role, but Artur did not feature at all. Yet come Saturday, Abu was in the starting lineup and Artur was on the bench before entering the game after 76 minutes.
This led to speculation that Tchani could be on the outside looking in at his typical No. 8 role and possibly even expendable, if he’s not going to feature, given his high cap number.
Following Sunday’s Crew SC scrimmage against Akron, where Tchnai played roughly 55 minutes, Berhalter addressed Tchani’s status within the team.
“It’s a long season,” he said. “I don’t think by a person not being in the 18 yesterday it says where they’re going to end up or what the season’s going to be for them. A lot of the guys playing today are going to play important roles for the team this year. So we’ve got to get them fit, we’ve got to keep them sharp and make sure they’re ready.”
Berhalter admitted that there is more depth in the midfield this year than the club has typically had, something that makes things more competitive. In fact, he likes this fact in that his players have to work hard to find playing time.
This message has been discussed with the players.
“The message to the guys is, ‘There’s a good chance you’re going to contribute this year. You’ve got to stay focused, you’ve got to stay positive, you’ve got to be able to help the team. Because you never know when your number’s going to get called,’” Berhalter said. “It’s about saying, ‘Okay, if you can do these couple things better, you’re going to get an opportunity. You’re not playing because of X, Y and Z. If you do X, Y and Z, you’ll be playing.”
With his size and strength, Tchani offers something that the other central midfielders do not. In MLS, that is something needed against certain oppositions and Tchani still could serve a role with Crew SC.
While Tchani didn’t get an opportunity on Saturday, he looked his usual self on Sunday in the scrimmage and it appears he will remain in Columbus for now and fight for a place on the team sheet.