There is a Canadian who has been making a name for herself at one of the biggest soccer clubs in Europe for several years now whose name isn’t Alphonso Davies.
Defender Kadeisha Buchanan is arguably one of the most successful players in Canadian soccer history, having helped Olympique Lyonnais win four French league titles and another four UEFA Women’s Champions League crowns since going to France in 2017. The three-time Canadian player of the year also won an Olympic bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Games.
And yet Buchanan isn’t a household name, with most sports fans in this country totally oblivious to her existence. Buchanan has never garnered serious consideration for the Lou Marsh Trophy, awarded annually to Canada’s athlete of the year, and short of scoring the winning goal in the gold-medal game at the Tokyo Olympics, she’ll probably continue to be overshadowed by teammate Christine Sinclair, Canada’s iconic captain.
But none of this seems to bother the unassuming Buchanan, who at age 25 is set to compete in her second Olympics. In fact, not getting much attention has long come with the territory for Buchanan, who grew up in Brampton, Ont., as the youngest of seven sisters in a single-parent family.
“Being the last child in a big family, you always fly under the radar. You always just get by, and stay out of people’s way,” Buchanan told CBC Sports. “I’m naturally very observant and coming from a big family, I always observed my sisters closely. ‘Ok, mom, doesn’t like this. You can get away with that.’ My sisters were always rowdy and crazy, but I was the calm one, so I think that’s where it stems from.”
Indeed, the soft-spoken Buchanan has long shunned the public spotlight, and her humble upbringing is a big reason why she just goes about her business off the field with a quiet dignity.
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Buchanan’s Jamaican-born mother Melsadie raised the seven girls (there’s only a 10-year difference between Kadeisha and her oldest sibling) on her own after splitting from her husband. She worked multiple jobs and the family lived from paycheque to paycheque. Enrolling her youngest daughter in youth soccer each year presented serious financial challenges.
“My mom always found a way, whether it was to put food on the table, or getting me to games and practices, because we didn’t have a car,” Buchanan said. “Me being a silent kid, I was mute, so I was afraid to ask players for rides, and I would cry to my mom, ‘Can you ask them to pick me up and give me a lift?’ She always did that for me. She asked, she begged, she pleaded with friends and family to help pay for my fees, to get me to practice and games. She did that so I didn’t have to worry about those things and I could just concentrate on soccer.”
Growing up in Brampton wasn’t easy. Buchanan said the family lived in some dodgy neighbourhoods and moved around a lot. But the values of hard work and sacrifice imparted by her mother had a lasting effect on her both as a kid growing up and as an athlete.
“My mom was always hustling just trying to make ends meet. That was my motivation and what shaped me into the person I am today. I alway thought to myself, ‘I want to make it big for my family and make it out of there, be successful.’ I was the first one to graduate from university,” Buchanan said.
“So for me, to try to make her proud and be a good daughter and just do right by her, that was important to me. I put my head down and focused on important stuff, not getting distracted by living in neighbourhoods that maybe weren’t so good. You can either get caught up in those situations or you can pave your own way. I tried to pave my own way. I stuck my head in soccer, and having that passion and love of the game got me through.”
1 of best defenders in the world
That mentality did a lot more than simply get her through, as Buchanan has firmly established herself as a major figure on the Canadian women’s team and one of the best central defenders in the world.
After first playing the sport as an eight-year-old at the Brams United Soccer Club in Brampton, she earned her first cap for the Canadian women’s team while still in high school, appearing in a match against China at age 17. Buchanan went on to become a four-time All-American and a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year at the University of West Virginia. She capped off her NCAA career by winning the MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the top U.S. college soccer player.
While still in university, she was named the young player of the tournament as a 19-year-old at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup staged in Canada. A year later, she helped Canada win its second consecutive Olympic bronze medal. In total, she’s scored four goals and tallied three assists in 103 national team appearances, and she is one of only five members of Canada’s 22-player squad for the Tokyo Olympics to have played 100 caps.
WATCH | Buchanan leads Canada to win:
After four years at West Virginia, Buchanan was a highly rated prospect going into the 2017 NWSL college draft. But her reputation was such that she was already being monitored by several big European clubs, and she signed with Lyon in January, 2017. The move to the French league has paid off huge dividends for Buchanan, who plays alongside France national team captain Wendie Renard as a central defender.
“Coming out of college and having a few caps for Canada, most of my play was physical. I was very physically dominant, fast, strong on the ball and strong in my tackles,” she says. “When I came to France, that wasn’t the style of play. It was more possession-based, very technically sound. That helped me gain better control on the ball and precision with my passing ability, and really looking at different types of passes, like hitting a diagonal on a dime, or a split pass.
“So, my game has improved from being a physical player to where I feel like over the last four years I’ve got a lot better on the technical side.”
‘No one wants to play against her’
Canadian coach Bev Priestman describes Buchanan as a “world-class centre back,” and has seen her develop into a more rounded player since signing for Lyon.
“Kadeisha was always that defender that nobody wanted to play against. Any forward coming up against Kadeisha, it wasn’t going to be an easy game for them. But what I’ve seen her develop at Lyon is a great passing ability. She’s got cleaner technically, and there’s a calmness to Kadeisha; you always want a calm centre back. She’s a great player, but I’ve also seen her leadership capacity within the group grow,” Priestman said.
One thing that hasn’t changed with Buchanan is what she means to the Canadian team. She’s one of the most liked players on the squad, universally respected by her teammates as a leader. Jayde Riviere believes Buchanan “brings a type of leadership that’s unique” and very different from Sinclair’s, but is no less important for Canada.
“Sincy is more of a vocal leader and Keish, she has a lot of actions that show the type of experience she has as a player,” Riviere said. “When I was coming into the program, she was someone who I looked up to not only because she had a unique pathway but because she’s just someone who completely owned who she was as a player, as a person. Just to have her experience is something that is really valued on the team and her leadership, the way she plays every game is very consistent and she makes sure she leaves her mark on the field every time we play.”
As far as not getting her proper due, Buchanan isn’t bothered by the fact that she’s under-appreciated by Canadian sports fans. Like when she’s on the pitch, she can only control what she can control. The extra recognition would be nice, but achieving a little bit more fame isn’t what motivates her.
“For me, the most important thing is that my teammates have trust in me, and they recognize what type of player I am and what I bring to the team. I’m more focused on my immediate surroundings … I just do my thing. That’s who I’ve always been. Even at West Virginia when I was doing really well, I didn’t make a big spectacle. ‘Hey, look at me!’ I kept to myself. I focused on the task at hand, and that’s how I approach football today. I tune out all the other stuff,” Buchanan said.
“I let my football speak for itself and try to get better as a person. If I’m getting better as a person, I’m satisfied. It doesn’t matter how many followers I have on social media or whatever. I’m strong on the field, and that’s what matters the most.”