TORONTO — Tajon Buchanan, who had to pay to take part in a Syracuse University ID camp in 2016 to make his case to join the Orange, could take centre stage Friday in an MLS SuperDraft long on Canadian talent.
Several mock drafts have projected the speedy 19-year-old forward from Brampton, Ont., going first overall to expansion FC Cincinnati at the draft in Chicago.
"He’s a fun player to watch," said Syracuse coach Ian McIntyre. "He’s exciting, he’s dynamic. When isolated, he’s looking to go past players."
"Extremely hard-working on the pitch," McIntyre added. "He’s a terrifically humble young man and a wonderful teammate."
Buchanan also scores high on determination, having battled family, academic and eligibility issues before finally making his way to Syracuse.
"I couldn’t be more proud of Tajon," said McIntyre.
Syracuse is no stranger to seeing its alumni go in the MLS draft with Alex Bono, Skylar Thomas and Oyvind Alseth all taken by Toronto FC in recent years. Sergio Camargo was signed as a TFC homegrown player.
Buchanan is one of seven underclassmen signed to Generation Adidas contracts. That makes them especially attractive since those deals do not count against MLS team salary caps.
In 15 games as a sophomore, Buchanan had eight goals and four assists. He had four goals and two assists in 18 outings as a freshman.
McIntyre primarily played Buchanan up front, to give him more space and freedom, although he was allowed to float wide.
Other Canadians worth watching at the draft are University of Maryland goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair (Pickering, Ont.), UNC-Charlotte defender Callum Montgomery (Lantzville, B.C.), Simon Fraser winger-forward Mamadi Camara (Montreal), North Carolina defender Alex Comsia (North Vancouver) and Syracuse defender Kamal Miller (Toronto).
St. Clair is a dynamic shot-stopper who is also an excellent distributor of the ball. Montgomery is a left-sided centre back who was the Conference USA defensive player of the year.
Comsia was ACC defender of the year while Camara is a playmaker who can also score. Miller, a centre back, was the lynchpin of the Syracuse defence and the Orange’s best player last season, according to McIntyre.
All six took part in the MLS Combine ahead of the draft.
St. Clair also signed a Generation Adidas contracts with the league. The other Generation Adidas players are UCLA midfielder Frankie Amaya, Indiana winger Griffin Dorsey, Virginia Commonwealth winger Siad Haji, North Carolina defender John Nelson and Kentucky forward J.J. Williams.
Buchanan’s time of 3.95 seconds over 30 metres at the Combine was good for third behind highly touted Michigan State winger DeJuan Jones (3.82) and Virginia defender Prosper Figbe (3.84).
Toronto is the only Canadian team with a first-round pick Friday. Montreal and Vancouver traded their top picks away.
TFC is likely on the lookout for a dynamic winger or depth in goal,
The attractive Canadian menu comes at a time when the value of the MLS draft is up for debate. Clubs look to sign young talent as homegrown players, thus avoiding the draft and keeping their salaries off the books.
The Philadelphia Union made their thoughts clear Wednesday by trading all five of their draft picks (the 13th, 29th, 27th, 61st and 85th) to FC Cincinnati for up to US$200,000 in general allocation money.
"When evaluating how we want to build our roster for the 2019 season and beyond, we decided that acquiring this money is the best use of our SuperDraft resources," Union sporting director Ernst Tanner said in a statement.
"Not only will we look to continue both signing Union academy products for the first team and Bethlehem Steel FC (Philadelphia’s USL entry), as well as attracting young talent from abroad, we believe that this sum of money will help us complete crucial signings ahead of the upcoming campaign."
European players who opt for the U.S. college route have also complicated the draft in recent years, with teams having to decide whether they are worth using a prized international slot to take.
San Jose will pick second overall, followed by Orlando, FC Dallas and Chicago.
Montreal and Vancouver will have to wait until the second round to make their first picks, 34th and 35th respectively. Toronto’s second-round pick will be 39th overall.
The first two rounds go Friday with two more to be held Sunday via conference call.
FC Cincinnati has three picks in the first round (first, 13th and 16th) and four in the second (26th, 29th, 30th and 37th).