New England Revolution player Tajon Buchanan had never played a competitive match on defense until this season’s MLS Cup playoffs.
But injuries to defenders Brandon Bye and Alexander Buttner prompted Revolution coach Bruce Arena to convert the 21-year-old Buchanan from forward to right back prior to the club’s playoff game against the Montreal Impact.
“Basically, Bruce called me in and told me I was going to play right back,” Buchanan said. “It was all pretty much new to me because I never played right back in a competitive match before. From there, it’s been training hard and getting used to it. The transition has been fairly easy right now because it’s not too much different from playing right wing. I’ve been enjoying it so far.”
In the Revolution’s two postseason wins, Buchanan has made an impact from his new position with Arena emphasizing a full-on attack strategy. In the 2-1 win over Montreal, the second-year pro was a critical part of the first goal, leaving a pass for Gustavo Bou, who found Carlos Gil for a 1-0 lead.
In Tuesday’s 2-0 upset of top-seeded Philadelphia in the quarterfinals, Buchanan delivered New England’s second goal, racing down the right wing and firing a shot into the far side of the net.
Buchanan, who has scored all three of his goals this season against the Union, celebrated with a back flip — a move he said he saves for goals in big games. Arena said he knew Buchanan would make a seamless transition to right back.
“He’s an athletic kid, he’s technically good, and he’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,” said Arena, whose team will face Orlando FC in Sunday’s Eastern Conference semifinals. . “He’s a very competitive guy. We didn’t hesitate a second knowing that he could make that adjustment there, because he’s played right midfield, which in a lot of ways has similar responsibilities to right back.”
With assistance from defenders Andrew Farrell and Henry Kessler, Buchanan has helped the Revolution limit opponents to just one goal in two postseason games.
Goalkeeper Matt Turner praised the work of his new defender following Tuesday’s win over the Union.
“That was a great goal, great work from Tajon,” Turner said. “He was getting up and down the flank, winning headers, winning his 50/50 balls, taking guys on, making them foul him, and keeping [Kai] Wagner down in his own half which was huge because he provides some good service in the attacking third for Philadelphia.”
Buchanan’s postseason surge has capped a strong second season in MLS. After the Revolution drafted him ninth overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft out of Syracuse, Buchanan spent his rookie season in and out of the lineup, appearing in 10 matches.
In the offseason, he went back to the basics, he said, and worked on shooting and assisting. He also focused on little things like crisper passing and a better first touch. In Year 2, the 6-foot Buchanan has appeared in all 23 matches with 11 starts, recording three goals and two assists.
“This offseason was major for me,” he said. “Coming back into preseason, I had the right mind-set and was training hard to be the best player I can be. I gained the confidence to perform and play at this level. It’s all about having the confidence and the help from my coaches and my teammates that have helped me take this leap from last year to this season.”
Buchanan took a unique path to professional soccer. Growing up in Brampton, Ontario – a Toronto suburb – Buchanan fell in love with soccer at age 10 while playing for the Brampton Youth Soccer Club. He dreamed of playing collegiate soccer in the United States — particularly at Syracuse — so he attended Legacy High School in Colorado to improve his prospects, and he promptly earned the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award as a senior.
Arena said Friday that Buchanan has a good future with the Revolution no matter where he plays and that it’s possible he will continue his role as right back against Orlando City, depending on the availability of Bye and Buttner.
“I think all year we’ve been a great team and we knew in the locker room we were a tough team to beat,” said Buchanan. “Over the last couple weeks we’ve gained confidence that we can beat anyone in MLS. I think if we keep playing the way we’ve been playing and we keep fighting, working for the whole game, it’s going to be major for us. We can really go on a run.”