In some ways it was a breakout moment for the 22-year-old, coming on the international stage and with reports of several European scouts eagerly watching his every move at the tournament in Guadalajara. But the brace was simply Buchanan picking up where he left off from a blistering Audi MLS Cup Playoffs performance in 2020 that nearly helped New England to MLS Cup and earned him Canada’s Men's Youth International Player of the Year award.
That playoff run came with Buchanan making a surprising shift to right back, yet his Group B goals came with Buchanan playing on the wing. In fact, he spent most of 2020 on the wing.
That creates a question that New England, Canada and the European teams reportedly chasing after him will have to answer: Where do you play Tajon Buchanan?
Buchanan grew up near Toronto as one of six children — three brothers and a couple of sisters under one roof. He found a way to stand out in that crowd with sports. First basketball, then soccer at around 10 years old. He eventually had to choose between the two, which led to a far more consequential choice that would later create an unconventional path to a rapid rise.
Despite his late commitment to soccer, Buchanan had clear talent. He found a home on a local club team, the Mississauga Falcons. Home would change in 2015, though. When Mississauga head coach and family friend Chrys Chrysanthou announced that he and his family were moving to Colorado, Buchanan, then a high school junior, wanted to tag along. Chrysanthou didn’t object. Buchanan just had to convince his mom.
“That conversation was tough. It was something my mom had to think about a lot," Buchanan told MLSsoccer.com in a recent conversation. "But at the end of the day she wanted what was best for me. So at the end of the day, she agreed with me and agreed who I was moving with is a very close family friend and my former coach. It was one of the best decisions I made. It helped me really develop in soccer and focus more on school and it paid off in the end.”
The payoff didn’t come right away. Buchanan left for Denver and, along with Chrsyanthou’s son Anthony, quickly found a place at Real Colorado, a club that’s now in MLS NEXT. The level of play and instruction outpaced what he had in Canada. Buchanan’s hopes that the move might better facilitate a jump to a Division I NCAA team – particularly Toronto-adjacent ACC powerhouse Syracuse – seemed well-founded.
But before Buchanan could play for the club, FIFA swooped in. His unusual living situation had caught their attention. Because he didn’t live with a biological parent, he’d been declared ineligible to play for Real Colorado until he turned 18. He could still train, but games were out of the question.
“When I wasn't allowed to play soccer, I think that took a huge toll on me mentally because I wasn't playing the game I loved,” the Brampton native said. “And, you know, I just felt like I was behind everyone else because I wasn't playing competitive games and I was just training. So it was very tough. The first year was probably the toughest year I've ever had playing soccer.”
Buchanan regularly called home to his family when he could and leaned on the Chrysanthous, his second family. But without games at the club level, getting noticed by D-I schools would prove difficult. So Buchanan paid his way into a Syracuse identification clinic in January 2016.
“We heard he had an atypical story and he was a player we were looking forward to seeing” Syracuse head coach Ian McIntyre said. “It didn’t take a lot to notice that he was pretty special and a technically gifted, athletic player.”
Shortly thereafter, McIntyre extended an offer for an official visit. Buchanan had committed by the end of the tour, but another obstacle appeared before he could head to his dream school. Buchanan’s academic credits from Canada hadn’t transferred to his new school. Unless he took extra classes, he would be academically ineligible. So Buchanan doubled down on academics. Training sessions decreased. Class time increased.
“That was a tough time. I was trying to balance playing soccer and still getting to training. And then, then I have to go in and go to school during the day. And then when I come home, I have to do online classes,” Buchanan said. “At the end of the day, it just showed I was able to do it in the classroom as well.”
Buchanan earned enough credits for eligibility and, in addition to training with his club team, he also joined his high school team and showed exactly what Real Colorado and Syracuse had already seen. Buchanan was named Class 5A’s State Player of the Year in 2016 and Gatorade’s State Player of the Year in 2017, scoring 21 times and dishing out 10 assists.
When he got to Syracuse, he wasn’t a secret anymore. And for the first time in a while, things fell into place. He earned ACC All-Freshman Team honors, First Team All-ACC honors and performed well academically. He earned a Generation adidas contract after his sophomore season and the Revolution took him No. 9 overall in the 2019 SuperDraft.
Fast forward to the end of a 2020 season full of adaptations due to the COVID-19 pandemic and when Bruce Arena and the Revolution had a need during the playoffs, they put Buchanan in a brand new position.
“If I went to Tajon and if I had gone to the team and said he's playing right back, I'd have gotten some funny looks,” McIntyre said. “But he’s found a way to get on the field. He's managed to not only just get on the field, but he wanted to stay on the field and the coaches found a way to bring out his strengths. But he's also shown a discipline in defensive positioning and he's showing a maturity that has been very impressive as well.”
In preseason, Arena has indicated that Buchanan is likely to return to the wing in 2021. The player himself said earlier in the year that he’s not sure if he’ll continue at right back. He also said he’ll be fine with whatever Arena and the Revolution coaching staff decides.
His performances with Canada at Olympic qualifiers could make that decision tougher. But maybe, all things considered, we shouldn’t be too surprised that someone who’s been forced to adapt so often, so early and succeeded each time would feel comfortable anywhere.
“With moving to Colorado, then going straight to Syracuse, then having to go to Boston, it was no different this time. I was just going to be alone and I kind of just had to grow up faster,” Buchanan said.
“I go by the idea that everything happens for a reason. So if I didn't take this path, I don't think I'd be in the position I am today. I look back on it and I've been through a lot and it’s a lot to take in. But, you know, I'm extremely grateful and thankful for it. I would definitely do it again. If it makes me want to achieve my goal and play at a professional level then, yeah, I'm all in for it.”
So, where do you play Tajon Buchanan? Wherever you want. He’ll make the most of it.