In the report card for the Vancouver Whitecaps Atlanta United game I humorously awarded Tony Tchani the grade of a shrugging emoji. The point I was trying to make was that it’s kind of hard to gauge exactly how much he’s contributing to the team. As if to prove my point the first two comments both took strong and opposite stances on Tchani. So with this in mind let’s examine the facts to try to determine if Tchani is a key part of the 4-1-4-1 or if he’s just a passenger (or something in between which, spoiler alert, is probably going to be the answer).
Part 1: The Facts
Let’s examine the how Tchani stacks up in the most important areas for a central midfielder.
- Pass completion rate: 77.5%
- Tackles per game: 1.3
- Interceptions per game: 0.6
- Aerials won per game: 0.7
- Key Passes per game: 0.1
- Dribbles per game: 0.2
- Bad control per game: 1.2
- Times dribbled past per game: 0.4
Those are the facts in a vacuum. They seem to indicate a player who is very average. Not bad, just average. 77.5% is a decent pass completion rate but not outstanding considering many of his passes are simple to keep possession. This is not to say that these passes aren’t important, just that making them is likely to up you passing percentage. In a way it may be a good thing that Tchani makes these passes as it reduces the aimless long balls that characterized the Whitecaps earlier in the year. Tchani only plays 1.4 long balls per game (the lowest of the regular midfield trio), which compared against his average number of passes per game of 25.7 is a reassuring number. 1.3 tackles per game seems a bit low, especially for a more defensive midfielder. Tchani also doesn’t create much going forward, at least not directly, with only 0.1 key passes per game and 0.2 dribbles. However this may only reflect Tchani’s more defensive role, which allows Jacobson to get further forward.
Part 2: Comparison to Other Whitecaps Midfielders
Perhaps the most obvious comparison to make is to Andrew Jacobson. Tchani has a slightly higher passing percentage then Jacobson (76%) but the difference is negligible. Tchani also has slightly fewer bad controls per game (1.2 vs 1.4). Thus Tchani is slightly better at keeping possession but the difference is probably to small to make much difference. However Jacobson does much more for the team creatively with 0.5 dribbles per game and 1 key pass per game. On the defensive side of things Tchani is dribbled past less (0.4 vs 0.7) and the two have the same number of average tackles per game. So what we are seeing here is two players who are functionally very similar with the exception that Jacobson creates a lot more chances.
Another reasonable comparison would be Russell Teibert*. Tiebert has a much better passing percentage (85.6%) and many fewer bad controls per game (only 0.3). However Teibert has made a grand total of 0 key passes and no Succesful dribbles. As little as Tchani Offers going forward Teibert creates basically nothing. Nevertheless Teibert does provide better defensive cover with 1.7 tackles per game and 1.2 interceptions (though he is dribbled past more at 1.2 times per game). Teibert is also much slighter then Tchani and thus doesn’t bring as much of a physical element. As much as I hate to perpetuate the North American obsession with big guys it certainly gives the ‘Caps an advantage at times. For example Waston hit the bar against DC United because Tchani won a header at the top of the box. This is a chance that probably doesn’t get created if Teibert or even Mckendry is in that position.
Part 3: Comparison to Other MLS midfielders
It’s also worth comparing Tchani to other MLS midfielders who play similar positions. As comparisons i’ve chosen SKC’s Roger Espinoza and Houston’s Ricardo Clark. They have been chosen because they also play a more advanced role in a midfield three, have similar experience levels, and are on top teams.
Espinoza has a higher passing percentage (83.3%), more key passes (0.9) and dribbles (1.0). On the defensive ends he has almost twice as many tackles (2.2), more interceptions (1.7) and wins more aerials (1.6). Ouch. At least Tchani’s salary is much lower.
Clark has a comprable passing percentage (77.8%) and slightly more key passes per game (0.3). Defensivly Clark makes 2.3 tackles per game, 0.9 interceptions and wins 0.8 aerials. All of these are more then Tchani.
So Tchani doesn’t compare so favourably against his MLS counterparts. But stats aren’t everything and there remains a very real possibility that he’s vital to Carl Robinson’s game plan in some way that’s not completely apparent to the eye test. If this is the case it’s almost certain that it’s the fact that he plays very few long balls, which allows the team to keep possession at least slightly better. Or perhaps he’s just what he appears to be, an average midfielder who does his job well enough but is nothing exceptional.
*Whoscored.com doesn’t have stats for the Voyageurs Cup so Teibert’s stats may be slightly off