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Defining Kadeisha Buchanan: an analysis of CanWNT’s star defender

Johannes Simon / FIFA / Getty Images

There is no question that although heading into the 2021 Summer Olympics Christine Sinclair bears the title of “best” Canadian player, Kadeisha Buchanan ought to be judged as its most important.

Will she be regarded as the greatest Canadian player of all time when her career is said and done? Her haul is awfully remarkable for her age – let’s not forget that she’s only 25 years old.

Her list of accolades include: four UEFA Champions League titles, four Division 1 Féminine titles, 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Best Young Player, FIFPro World XI 2015, CONCACAF Team of the Decade 2011-2020 and a three-time winner of both the Coupe de France and Canadian Player of the Year.

Is she John Herdman’s greatest legacy? It’s hard to argue otherwise. Christine Sinclair was already up to her goal-scoring exploits before Buchanan even turned eight years old. As a player who made her debut under John Herdman and truly blossomed during his time as head coach of the Canadian National Team, it was under his guidance that Buchanan developed into the player that she is today – likely the best defender in the world.

When Buchanan made her senior Canadian debut in 2013 at the age of 17, it was apparent even then how impactful her strength and composure could be on a match. Any pondering of what warranted her inclusion in the side washed away in minutes, her play just a taste of what was to come.

For her domestic club, Olympique Lyonnais, the club’s record of goals conceded has been nothing short of phenomenal during Buchanan’s stay. Across a total of 47 matches that she’s played for Lyon, only 12 goals have been conceded while she’s been on the pitch. Lyon’s PPM (point per match) rate has been an astounding 2.80 this season, never dipping below 2.60 PPM during her four years with the club.

To give a bit of context into just how dominant they’ve been, in 2019-20 Buchanan was limited to just five appearances – Lyon would go on to win the league title conceding just four goals, solely one with Buchanan on the pitch.

This year? Arguably in the best physical condition that she’s ever been in, she’s played 96.8% of minutes – this coming off of a year in which she only took part in 23.9%. One has to wonder if Lyon’s decision to not release Buchanan for the SheBelieves Cup in addition to the break caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has payed dividends for her well-being, mitigating the strain that trans-Atlantic travel tends to inflict.

Her importance cannot be understated – but just what is it that is so important about Buchanan? This presents an opportunity to define her as more than just the “strong and powerful” central defender narrative from pundits that so often plagues black players. Buchanan is so much more than that, with her ability to influence a match through her attacking creativity from deep highly underrated. Let’s use data accumulated from the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup as a snapshot to offer a glimpse into the finer details of what makes her tick.

Buchanan’s pass completion rate, though just a sample size that will be drawn from, was an astounding 88.4% during the tournament. For comparison, Andrea Pirlo, the definition of a playmaker (so much so that his surname has been adoringly utilized as a manner to describe an excellent distributor of the ball) during Juventus F.C.’s memorable run to the Champions League final in 2014-15 only managed an 85% rate.

Though she is not one to directly contribute in the attacking third to goals as often as Pirlo did, her distribution from deep to the flanks dictates the attacking movements of her side and the overall tempo of a match. Buchanan’s playmaking ability puts her teammates in opportunities to succeed when transitioning into the attacking phase, and frankly her absence during the 2021 SheBelieves Cup was a major contributing factor to Canada’s lack of creativity – one that has been understated.

Oh, and she can dribble. Across the four matches she logged a remarkable 100% dribble success rate, drawing eight fouls against her in the process. Buchanan averaged 61.25 touches per match, the location of those touches evenly split between the defensive and middle thirds of the pitch. How many of these resulted in a loss of possession? Just two of 245, neither resulting in an opposition attacking opportunity. Simply outstanding, yet at the same time, what ought to be expected of a defender of her calibre. Part of this can attributed to her strength in possession; her use of her body to shield the ball and ward off opposition pressure are second to none.

Passing and dribbling are both highly sought-after traits to have in a defender, but what of her defensive skillset? Buchanan averaged roughly two tackles per match, one interception per match, and a block every two matches. Against opponents dribbling at her, her tackle success rate was 75%, retrieving the ball within five seconds 33.3% of the time she applied pressure to an opponent. Her average ball retrieval rate per match was 12.25, including secondary balls won.

These are numbers that don’t paint the entire picture; Buchanan’s defensive positioning and match awareness are ultimately her greatest assets. She puts herself in positions to succeed by being a step ahead of her opponents, quickly identifying safe passing options to relieve pressure in transition.

There’s not much that Kadeisha Buchanan cannot do and hasn’t won; but can she lead Canada to Olympic glory in 2021? Only time will tell.

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