Tajon Buchanan was a highly courted player this summer. Quite a few European clubs were interested in securing his future, to say the least.
The New England Revolution were adamant he wouldn't leave until after the 2021 MLS season and that he wouldn't leave for cheap. Still, that didn't eliminate many clubs. The Canadian international's talent and potential were such that teams were content to wait until the winter for a player that ended up being transferred for $7 million. That isn't generally an ideal scenario for buying clubs.
In the end, after a months-long process of interest and then negotiations, Belgian giants Club Brugge proved the right fit for Buchanan (and the right financial fit for New England to accept).
“I’ve thought about this for months, to be honest. It wasn’t just a week or two decision," the 22-year-old forward told media on a virtual press conference Friday. "I’ve been thinking about my future for a very long time. Since the beginning, Club Brugge has felt like a family I wanted to join."
French side RC Lens had multiple bids rejected and German club Augsburg were deeply involved in the chase, per sources. There were others as well, but a move to Brugge presented too many positives to ignore.
The Philippe Clement-led side has finished in the Belgian top-flight's top two every year since 2012-13, making them routinely involved in European competitions. The Blauw-Zwart also carry a reputation as a club that identifies and develops young talent, while the domestic league often provides a platform for future moves.
“Brugge is known for developing young players and moving them on to even bigger clubs and Brugge is also in the [UEFA] Champions League," head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena said. "So when he goes there in January, he'll be stepping into a team that's in Champions League and that's a great opportunity for a young player like Tajon. And I think the Belgian League is a nice fit for him as well. And if he can get acclimated into that league, you never know where he's headed next.”
Brugge are in the 2021-22 Champions League group stage, though got drawn into perhaps the most difficult pot alongside Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and RB Leipzig. Group A play will wrap up by early December before Brugge can officially register Buchanan. The top two advance to the knockout rounds, third place goes to the Europa League and the continental dream is over for whoever finishes bottom.
Regardless if they're out or not by January, Brugge are a good bet to be back next season. This is their third year in a row qualifying for the Champions League group stage.
“Every kid dreams of playing in the Champions League," Buchanan said. "Even the Europa League, just European competition. That’s a huge goal of mine, I’m super excited about that.”
For now, though, that's not on the front of his mind. Buchanan has eyes on silverware with the Revolution.
“I’m trying to win everything," Buchanan said. "Supporters’ Shield, Eastern Conference and MLS Cup. We have the talent, we have the fight in this group to do that.”
The Revs are in a good position to knock out the first of those desires. New England sit atop the Supporters' Shield race with some distance between those chasing them. They're seven points ahead of second-place Seattle Sounders and 10 points ahead of third-place Sporting Kansas City.
New England have navigated international absences, with key stars Buchanan and Matt Turner gone for a month at the Gold Cup, as well as an injury to MVP frontrunner Carles Gil, who has missed their last five matches and will be absent against this weekend when they face New York City FC (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET | MLS Live on ESPN+). They're unbeaten in five matches without Gil, including four wins.
"Me and Tajon have been on this journey together since our rookie year," defender DeJuan Jones said. "Right when I got to the hotel in Foxborough, Tajon’s right there. Him and I have been on this journey for almost three years now and to see him develop the way he has, it’s really incredible. I’m really excited for him. I know Brugge is a good spot for him. He’s excited to be there but he’s also still excited with what we have here with the Revs. We’re looking to continue to play well this year and see what we can do.”
Lifting a trophy (or multiple trophies) would be the perfect sendoff as Buchanan departs for Europe. The Syracuse product will have spent three seasons with New England after being selected with the No. 9 pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas. He's leveled up from an intriguing young talent to a bonafide starter to a rising star during his Revolution career, growing in confidence.
Now at Brugge, Buchanan has the chance to follow in the footsteps of fellow MLS alums Cyle Larin (ex-Orlando) and Alphonso Davies (ex-Vancouver) as Canadian players thriving in Europe.
“It’s very nice to see how far I’ve come," Buchanan said with a smile. "Just taking another step forward in my career, pushing myself as far as possible. I’m super excited and super happy.”