Tchani raises his game, Red Bulls' expectations

Young midfielder avoids the rookie wall but NY coach wants more

Tony Tchani

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UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Tony Tchani is getting stronger. 

At a time when most rookies begin hitting the wall during their first season of professional soccer, the New York Red Bulls freshman is improving, making better decisions, taking up stronger positions, and seeing more playing time. 

“As you can see, he wants it,” said teammate Macoumba Kandji. “He’s playing great, but he’s training hard, always giving 110 percent. He wants it and he’s the type of player who is going for it.”

Tchani, the second player taken in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, has already logged 1,070 minutes in his rookie campaign, but it’s been during the past four games in particular that has shown his potential.

Partnering with Rafa Márquez in the heart of the Red Bulls’ midfield, Tchani’s game has shown composure on the ball and smart decision making. The formation of the Márquez-Tchani partnership has helped New York take nine points from their last four games.

“Rafa is always communicating with me, always talking,” Tchani told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s always telling me where to be and I know when he goes forward, I need to drop back. When I push forward, I know he’s sliding over.”

The key, Tchani says, is listening. The 21-year-old often asks more experienced teammates like Márquez, Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Ángel for advice and insight. In many ways, Tchani sees himself as similar to the quiet but intense Márquez.

“I can be shy off the field, but on it, I become more intense,” Tchani said. “I can be aggressive and tough.”

The recent play of Tchani and fellow rookie Tim Ream have made them both contenders for rookie of the year. But with greater success comes greater expectations. Tchani's recent string of performances has brought higher expectations from the Red Bulls coaching staff, and despite a decent performance in last weekend's 2-0 win over San Jose, a few questions came up.

“The Saturday game was a bit of a step back for [Tchani],” head coach Hans Backe said. “He played too many back and side passes.”

But overall, the Red Bulls manager is pleased with the path Tchani is on.

“He hasn’t [hit the wall], not yet,” Backe said. “He looks fresh, and keeps getting stronger. It’s just that in a way, he needs to continue to make those strong plays and keeping playing smart.”

Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012