PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Who is TaJon Buchanan?
As the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup approached, North and Central American football followers knew there was something special brewing with Canada’s men’s national team.
Even without its star players in Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies, Canada had a revitalized group of dual-nationals, young talents, and fresh faces at the Gold Cup. Their semifinal run was as big a statement of intent to become one of the powerhouses of Concacaf as the emergence of yet another bright starlet in Tajon Buchanan during their tournament run.
Buchanan, a 22-year-old winger for the New England Revolution, was a relative unknown for Canada heading into the Gold Cup. Though in his third season as a professional, his international experience only dates to March when he and Canada Under-23 made it to the semifinal of the Concacaf Olympic Qualifiers. He made his senior debut in June against Aruba, but he only featured as a late second half substitute in the following three games before the Gold Cup.
But in this time of need, head coach John Herdman turned to his budding starlet to fill Davies’ shoes as the starting left wingback. Buchanan predominantly plays on the right side with the Revolution, but the adjustment seemed to rarely phase him as he became an outright starter for Canada in their run to the Gold Cup semifinal.
Tajon Buchanan's style of play
He was their primary playmaker from the left wing in their tournament opener against Martinique, demonstrating an ability to unbalance defenders with his change of speed on the dribble to create Canada’s second and third goals.
The second goal came after Buchanan received the ball on the left sideline and began to narrow his run toward goal. After beating his defender for pace, the 22-year-old slowed down again as though to hit a left-footed cross before accelerating into the box to slide a cross to Jonathan Osorio for Canada’s second goal of the game.
Just six minutes later, he set up Canada’s third goal in similar fashion As Canada began to play out of the back, Buchanan dropped to move his defender out of position and immediately turned back up the field. Buchanan, now unmarked, slowed his momentum after receiving the ball to unbalance his defender again and burst past them to get into the box. He then cut the ball back to Junior Hoilett for the pre-assist to Stephen Eustaquio’s goal and Canada’s third.
Both plays were a testament to Buchanan’s natural speed as well as his ability to identify and exploit space in different ways. His game isn’t just to kick the ball and chase it down the flank as most raw wingers would; Buchanan can manipulate the speed of play with his movement on the ball, and his combination play in central areas makes his movements less predictable.
Buchanan’s work to create Canada’s second goal against Haiti in the next game was perhaps the moment he showed just how good he can be as a wide playmaker. Once again, he picked up the ball on the left side and, when faced with a defender on the turn, played a one-two passing sequence with Jonathan Osorio to get around his man.
As a second defender approached Buchanan near the box, the Canadian winger created a yard of space for himself to dart past the defender and deliver a cross to Lucas Cavallini with two swift stepovers. That moment seemed to unlock on a different level of confidence with Buchanan for the remainder of the game, with the winger getting past defenders with slicks ball flicks and even beating his man one-on-one on the edge of the box with an elastico.
The Canadian youngster then faced his biggest challenge of the group stage both defensively and offensively in the final group stage game against the United States. It was his defensive lapse that allowed Shaq Moore to ghost into the box at the back post to score what was eventually the game-winning goal, but the mistake only fired up Buchanan to make amends for it.
Moore’s attempts to get forward were met by irritable shirt tugs and unending stabs at his ankles as Buchanan refused to give him an inch of breathing room. Going forward, Buchanan got the better of Moore and Kellyn Acosta as a pair of stepovers opened a yard of space for him to dink a cross between them and into Cyle Larin’s run.
Buchanan then floated with positional freedom across the field, looking for a chink in the Americans’ defensive structure to exploit. He was nearly the hero in the 78th minute after he beat Cristian Roldan on the edge of the box, but his curling right-footed shot agonizingly bent around the back post and out for a goal kick. It was a performance expected of any side’s star player in high-pressure situations, and Buchanan was just inches away from putting the cherry on top of a phenomenal individual performance.
The loss meant Canada finished second in their group and would face Costa Rica in the quarterfinals. Buchanan returned to his preferred right wing positionally to start, but this game provided a valuable data point that allowed for a better assessment of some of his skill set.
It became abundantly clear that Buchanan relied heavily on his right foot. He tormented the group stage with his speed down the flanks, but an experienced Costa Rican back line negated his speed well and forced him backward or to play with his left foot. Likewise, an overzealous Buchanan was an incredible asset to have working up and down the wings, but it also meant he had the tendency to recklessly put a foot into challenges and commit unnecessary fouls.
It was a game full of valuable lessons for the youngster to learn from, especially heading into a semifinal clash with Mexico. Buchanan had already shown his capabilities against one Concacaf powerhouse in the United States, and now he had the opportunity to do it again against the favorites to win the Gold Cup.
From the start of this game, it was clear Buchanan had learned from his mistakes against Costa Rica. He pressed Jesús Gallardo, Mexico’s left-sided center back, consistently and won Canada a few turnovers in dangerous positions, and the simultaneous awareness he showed to cut off the passing angle to Orbelín Pineda up the field removed Mexico’s ability to transition into attack at times down the left. There was also a stronger sense of maturity in the few fouls he did commit, mostly doing so to prevent Mexico’s counterattacks when Canada pushed numbers forward.
This defensive solidity didn’t take away from his flair in attack either. Gallardo struggled to deal with his speed and agility on the ball, and it didn’t take long for Mexico to start double teaming him in the second half when he switched over to the left side of Canada’s attack with Edson Álvarez and Luis Rodríguez. Their added defensive efforts to keep Buchanan quiet still weren’t enough to prevent the moment of brilliance he produced just before the hour mark.
Buchanan chased down a long ball sent down the left channel, eventually picking it up in the final third and running at Mexico’s goal from a narrow angle. As Carlos Salcedo stepped to meet him inside the box, Buchanan slowed his run and put Salcedo on the floor with a now signature pair of stepovers. Then, rather than going around the defender for a better angle to shoot, the 22-year-old used his defender’s body to block the goalkeeper’s line of sight to dispatch a well-placed, low drive into the back of the net at the far post for the equalizer.
The 55 minutes leading up to this goal felt like the first three minutes and 30 seconds of Frank Ocean’s Nights. The tension Ocean creates with an anxiety-ridden guitar riff is a perfect soundtrack to Buchanan’s entire tournament trying to fill the shoes of Davies and David. The sound of the riff could easily substitute for an emergency alarm noise in an action movie, and that alone is eerily similar in the way Buchanan was Davies’ emergency replacement.
But then the song’s transition kicks in, and there’s a feeling of weightlessness and liberation throughout the rest of it. The transition marks the exact midway point of the album Nights is on, Blonde, and signals a thematic shift in the album that parallels what felt like the moment that officially announced Buchanan to the international game. From his poise on the ball to the panache of his stepovers to the clinical finish, the moment fell perfectly for Buchanan.
“The first half, we gave him more of a defensive responsibility,” Herdman said in a press conference after the game. “We had a plan to shift him into higher positions during the first half and when we did, you could see it impacted him. But moving him into that higher position, shifting into a more defined 4-4-2, 4-1-3-2 defensively, it helped … and they couldn’t handle him on the flanks.”
Forecasting the Future for Tajon Buchanan
Despite falling short in the semifinal with Canada, Buchanan was named the Best Young Player of the Gold Cup and was included in the tournament’s Best XI. There was speculation surrounding his future in MLS prior to the Gold Cup, and his individual performances blew more win into the sails of the transfer rumors circulating about him. A move abroad before next January seems unlikely with the Revolution’s ambition to win an MLS Cup this season and Buchanan’s importance to that goal, but it won’t be long until the Canadian winger joins a growing list of MLS alumni who have taken the next steps of their careers in Europe.
Buchanan is a gracious dribbler whose abilities to change speeds and get out of tight spaces help him excel in one-on-one positions.
He is prone to losing concentration when defending and leaves more to be desired in his tackling, but both deficiencies stem from his lack of experience playing in positions with more defensive responsibilities.