By Alex Labidou
Can Tony Tchani (pictured left) turn his impressive first start into more playing time?
As the number two overall pick of the 2010 MLS draft, a lot has been expected out of New York Red Bull rookie Tony Tchani. Due to the team’s astonishing success in its first five games, minutes have been hard to come by for the 21-year old central midfielder. Instead of sulking over his minutes, Tchani has heeded his coaching staff’s advice of learning from observing and gaining insight from team veterans. When head coach Hans Backe decided to rest most of his rotation for last Tuesday’s US Open Cup match against the Philadelphia Union, the rookie proved in his first start that the lessons were being well learned.
“We had an excellent first half that was dominated by Tony Tchani, who was the king of the midfield,” said Hans Backe during the team’s postgame conference after a 2-1 victory over the Union.
It is rare that head coaches lavish extensive praise on to their rookies as the way Backe did but the 58-year old Swedish coach knew that his rookie worked hard to prove himself. Whether it was making perfectly executed through balls or using his lengthy 6-4 frame to win headers in the air, Tchani was all over the pitch. While fatigue kicked in towards the end of the second half, the overwhelming sentiment is that Tchani could help a central midfield that has been very inconsistent to start the season. Backe has already proven that he is willing to play rookies if they can handle the pressure as evidenced with Tim Ream and admitted that he isn’t hesistant to adding Tchani in his rotation as well.
“It was a good answer from him in the first half,” Backe responded in regards to Tchani potentially earning more playing time. “This was an absolutely top class performance from Tony in the first half and I was surprised. I’m sure that we can use him even in a week against DC United. He could definitely start but most likely we’ll use him for 30 minutes or so.”
Tchani spoke with 90:00 Soccer to discuss his first month in the MLS and playing under head coach Backe.
90:00: You finally got your first start in Tuesday’s US Open Cup game against the Philadelphia Union, can you talk about your experience and whether or not you were nervous?
TT: I couldn’t sleep the night before! I was just thinking about this game that I have to prove myself. I have to prove to the coaches that drafted me that it isn’t because I am lucky, it’s I am a good player and show that I can improve myself.
90:00: Talk about your rookie season so far, what has it been like adjusting both to New York and the MLS?
TT: My experience in New York has been very good so far. This is because my teammates are very nice and also because of my coaches.
90:00: What has it been like playing for Hans Backe?
TT: It has been very good because he really teaches you….
90:00: Obviously Backe’s European background is very different from your coaches in high school and college, what are some noticeable differences?
TT: He really knows soccer. In training, he always coaches us on how to play and how to approach each session.
90:00: When you were drafted by the Red Bulls, many expected you to be a holding midfielder. However, your coaching staff has encouraged you to attack. What has the transition been like?
TT: Coach always talks to me about how he knows that I can go forward. I tried to play sideways but he just kept on telling me to go forward. He was like turn and go forward and most of the time during the game [against Philadelphia] I turned and went forward.
90:00: Who is your favorite soccer player? Do you model any of your game from that player?
TT: Zidane and now Kaka. The way they play, controlling the ball and how they keep their calm throughout the game.
90:00: During the first month of the season, you have had very few opportunities to get on the pitch. How has it been in terms of being patient and waiting for your opportunities?
TT: I learned a lot from everything. Coach spoke to me a lot about just observing those guys [on the field].
90:00: After your latest performance, Coach Backe said that he can see you getting more playing time immediately. What are your feelings about becoming a bigger part of the team’s rotation?
TT: I’m excited, I can’t wait to see what’s next.
90:00: Finally, this is obviously down the road but every player wants to eventually make his country’s national team. Since you’ve been living in the US since you were 12, a question that comes to mind is which team would you ultimately like to represent?
TT: Well that’s a difficult question because right now I am not thinking about that. But if I had the opportunity down the road, I would choose Cameroon because it is where I am from.
The Red Bulls Player of the Month is…Bouna Coundoul.
As good as Tim Ream has been this season, the award has to go to the 28-year old Senegalese Goalkeeper. Coundoul has been hard at work for a Red Bull squad whose offense is still a work in progress and he continues to make clutch saves each game. As I mentioned last week, it wouldn’t be farfetched to see him manning the posts in the MLS All-Star game in July.
View From The Laboratory is written by Alex Labidou. Throughout the 2010 MLS season, he will provide insights on the New York Red Bulls as well as inside rumors and hilarious tales of irrelevance. Labidou joined 90:00 Soccer as a contributor in August 2009 and has worked as a journalist for VIBE, NBA.com, ABC News (20/20) and New York Newsday. He can be reached at AlexLabidou@gmail.com.