When Tony Tchani and Tyson Wahl saw the starting lineup for the Columbus Crew for much of the early season, both players likely expected to feature in the lineup for much of the season.
But after a June 5 loss to Philadelphia, Tchani didn’t find himself in the starting lineup again until more than three months later.
Two solid substitute appearances for Interim Head Coach Brian Bliss earned Tchani a starting role in central midfield in Saturday’s crucial victory in Montreal, and the Cameroonian says that working with Bliss has given him a new opportunity to play.
“Since I’ve had a new coach, you just have to push differently,” Tchani said. “You have to work hard in training trying to be sure that whenever you get your chance you have to take it and hold it tight and try to never let it go.”
Tchani, a four-year MLS veteran, said that Bliss’s emphasis on positivity has been beneficial to him and the team as a whole.
“This is a coach that’s always going to push you hard,” he said. “Even if things don’t go right, he doesn’t try to bring you down. Before a game, he always tells us, ‘If you make one, two, three mistakes, make sure the fourth is a good one. Because that fourth one can be a game-changer.’”
For Bliss, Tchani’s development has come as a result of a challenge that the coach himself issued both in private and in front of the team.
“Maybe something resonated with [Tchani] in a team meeting, or maybe something resonated that I said out on the field,” Bliss said. “But I’ve also directly challenged him, in front of his peers, to be better on the defensive side of the ball and take care of the ball when he does have it because he’s a big guy with good feet. And he’s risen to the occasion.”
Meanwhile, Wahl spent much of the middle of the season struggling to find a place in the gameday 18, let alone in the starting lineup, and said he didn’t expect to get much playing time once the change was made.
“I’m thankful that [former Crew Head Coach] Robert [Warzycha] brought me in. He did give me an opportunity, and he started me for the majority of the first half of the season,” he said. “But then we hit a rough patch and I was out of favor. And I didn’t see much opportunity to move back up. I wasn’t comfortable. But [Warzycha] was comfortable with me off of the field.”
When Bliss took over, Wahl was almost immediately a first team regular, and has started at center back for the past two matches.
“I don’t think it was necessarily anything I was doing on the practice field,” Wahl said. “I think the coaching change helped. I went from sometimes not even being in the 18 to getting an opportunity to play.”
Wahl says that he suspects that there had to be a scapegoat for the team’s struggles through the summer, and that he may have found himself in the position not due to his own failures.
“It wasn’t personal. We were losing games, and I’m not one of the best players on the field. And when that happens, you have to pick someone,” he said. “When you’re losing games, if you’re not the best one, two or three man, you’re going to be in that middle ground group, and a lot of the time those are the guys who will pay for it.”