When Tony Tchani started the Fire’s preseason finale against Tulsa on Saturday, it was hard to tell that he had been with the team for only one training session before that game.
The Fire traded for Tchani, sending $150,000 of Targeted Allocation Money to Vancouver, on Wednesday and his first practice with the team was Friday.
“I feel like he was with us all this time and also I have the feeling that he feels the same,” coach Veljko Paunovic said after Saturday’s game. “Immediately when we spoke (Friday), from the first session we had that walkthrough and preparation for the game, he understood everything perfectly.”
Tchani played with Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger, arguably the two most important players on the Fire’s roster, in central midfield. Tchani and McCarty played more defensive roles while Schweinsteiger had the freedom to be more involved in the attack.
Tchani has been in MLS since 2010 and has made 169 career MLS regular season starts with 10 more playoff starts so him fitting in quickly may not be a big surprise.
“I think so far, so good,” Tchani said. “I knew a few guys on the team, which was pretty much easier just to get to know those guys.”
Tchani was teammates with defender Christian Dean in Vancouver before Dean was traded to the Fire last summer. He also played with assistant coach Eric Gehrig for three years in Columbus.
While easing into his new team hasn’t been a difficult challenge for Tchani, the trade did catch him off guard. Vancouver traded defender Tim Parker to the New York Red Bulls for midfielder Felipe Martins and $500,000 of allocation money. Felipe’s addition made Tchani more expendable for Vancouver.
“I was surprised because I had a pretty good preseason so I didn’t expect anything,” Tchani said. “And I played every game. If I would have expected it I was hoping to be at least benched in one of those games to give me a heads up. I think they did a pretty good job hiding it from me.”
Adding another experienced, MLS proven central midfielder to the team provides Paunovic with more flexibility. Tchani can take on a similar role to the one Juninho had last season.
The Brazilian formed a starting midfield trio with McCarty and Schweinsteiger nine times in 2017 similar to the way Tchani joined McCarty and Schweinsteiger on Saturday, but Juninho was also a solid fill-in when either of the Fire stalwarts were unavailable. Juninho made 17 starts last year, but also missed some time due to injury so Tchani could be in line for more minutes this season.