Tajon Buchanan announced himself on the national stage during the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs last season. He was ready for his moment, and he was ready for the rest of us to catch up.
Buchanan surprisingly started as an emergency right back for the underdog New England Revolution in Round One against the Supporters' Shield-winning Philadelphia Union, where he was a menace going forward and scored a goal. He started at the new position against Orlando City SC the next game, where he delivered a match-winning performance in a 3-1 Revs win.
Though he didn't end up with an assist, he directly set up New England's first two goals by winning a penalty kick then creating a tap-in for Adam Buksa (who hit the post and Gustavo Bou knocked in the rebound).
To the point, Buchanan had arrived.
Eleven months later, he's a breakout star in MLS, a key starter for the Canadian national team and soon on his way to Europe to join Champions League side Club Brugge in a $7 million club-record transfer.
It can all be traced back to that sunny afternoon in Orlando.
“It was an indication that this player could be special," Revs head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena told media of Buchanan's breakout performance that day.
Buchanan burst onto the national stage – and firmly on the radar of European clubs – following that performance. Now the 22-year-old returns to Exploria Stadium as the Revs face Orlando City on Sunday (7:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes), three points away from equalling LAFC's single-season league record (72) for points. They can also claim the Supporters' Shield with a win or Seattle Sounders loss/tie.
Buchanan was selected No. 9 overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft after starring at Syracuse University. He was an uber-talented and dynamic winger, though questions about end product and consistency let him fall down the board. He didn't play a ton during his rookie season, contributing two assists in 10 appearances (four starts), then broke into the regular rotation during the 2020 regular season. He had two goals and two assists while appearing in all 23 matches (11 starts).
After those playoff performances, Buchanan suddenly burst onto the radar of big clubs across Europe. They loved the idea of him playing wingback. To kick off 2021, he took his game to another level, developing his end product to the point where he's stellar on the wing or at wingback.
Club Brugge desperately wanted him, but they weren't alone. Ligue 1 club RC Lens had multiple bids rejected. Bundesliga side Augsburg came close, as did others, before Brugge closed the deal and met the Revs' desire to let him stay in MLS for the rest of the 2021 season.
Buchanan has gone from strength to strength since. With seven goals and five assists for the Revs this year, as well as three goals and four assists in 14 matches with Canada across the Gold Cup and World Cup Qualifiers, Buchanan continues to ascend.
"Tajon continues to improve, he's a dynamic attacker player, a good 1-on-1 player who can score goals, learning how to play on both sides of the ball which is certainly critically important in international play," Arena said after the October international window. "So, he continues to grow as a player, physically he's developing as well, so I think he's a player with obviously a great future in the game.”
And now, quite simply, he's vital to the Revs' pursuit of glory. With the Supporters' Shield just about mathematically clinched and a single-season points record in sight, Buchanan hopes to pick up as much hardware as he can before he heads to Belgium and Champions League pastures after the season.