Tchani still struggling for fitness as Crew head to Carolina

Midfielder looks to gain game fitness while in Charleston

Tony Tchani is ready to put an offseason of illness and mystery behind to show Crew fans why the club traded for him last summer.

The Cameroonian midfielder became ill on Dec. 5, the day he and teammate Dilly Duka were scheduled to leave for the Generation adidas tour of the Netherlands. Tchani did not make the trip.

Doctors were unable to diagnose the problem and Tchani still felt lethargic at the start of Crew camp in late January. His malaise continued into the Florida portion of the preseason and only recently has he felt better.

“I feel pretty good,” he said to MLSsoccer.com this week. “I’m getting there. I’m about 90, 95 percent. I’m getting close now. Hopefully by the beginning of the season I’ll be 100 percent.”

That’s good news for head coach Robert Warzycha, who made the trade to acquire Tchani from Toronto FC for Leandre Griffit and Andy Iro last July 15 only to have Tchani undergo knee surgery on Aug. 26 without having played a game for Columbus.

Tchani finally made his Crew debut under difficult circumstances: going 90 minutes in the 1-0 playoff loss in the altitude at Colorado on Oct. 27.

“I was only there for one game,” Tchani said. “I know people want to see more of me and see what I can do. I’m trying to show at the beginning of this season what I am capable of.”

Tchani has been pegged to battle Danny O’Rourke and Rich Balchan for the defensive midfield spot. Like Tchani, they have been plagued by injuries – but he’s still been unable so far to secure the starting role.

“It was a difficult offseason for [Tchani],” Warzycha said. “Because he didn’t go to Holland with Generation adidas and was sick, the preseason started for him with our first practice. It’s been a month, but I think he needs more fitness.”

The next phase of training takes the Crew to Charleston, S.C., beginning Thursday for three games in the Carolina Challenge Cup and scrimmages against local colleges.

The expectation is for Tchani to haul heavy minutes.

“He needs that game fitness,” Warzycha said. “That’s what he’s going to get in Charleston. As the season goes on he’s going to play better and better.”