Aidan Buchanan has already doubled his scoring output from last season for the Guilford boys soccer team, tallying a pair of goals through the team’s first five games.
Last year, the only goal he scored was a game-winner he knocked home with 5 seconds left in the CIAC Class L quarterfinals against Bristol Eastern.
Before this season, Buchanan was strictly a fullback and one of the best defensive players in the state, earning All-SCC and All-State honors.
This year, after being named as one of GametimeCT’s 25 boys soccer players to watch in the preseason, Buchanan has expanded his role, moving up to play center midfield when the opportunity is right.
It turns out, you can take the player out of the defense, but you can’t take the defense out of the player.
“It is nice to get involved in the offense. I had never really thought of playing center-mid. One game, coach said he was going to push me up to the midfield and see what happens and it worked out,” Buchanan said. “I have been going back-and-forth. Especially against teams like Hand that have such a powerful strike force. I have been helping out defensively more than playing on attack.”
Despite being considered one of the state’s top defenders, Guilford has needed Buchanan elsewhere this season.
It has been a change not just for Buchanan but also coach Curtis Gullette who had to think long and hard about taking an All-State player and changing his position senior year.
“Freshman year he started as an outside back and later that year he ended up playing centerback. Ever since we have been trying to figure out a way to get him out of the back because he has some good offensive skills,” Gullette said. “Last year he was the main part of our defense. We lost a lot of senior leadership in that spot after last year. He has had to play there some this year but we have gotten him up in the midfield a bunch. It was not easy to move him especially when two of our first games were against Scott Testori and Hand.”
Gullette said he had little doubt Buchanan could play well offensively, but getting him to do it was a tougher sell for a player more concerned with wins than personal glory.
“He’s selfless. He’s more worried about stopping them as a success in his mind than him scoring a goal,” Gullette said. “He took on that challenge the last three years. He knew he had the skill to score and be more offensive but for the sake of the team he knew we needed him to play D and make sure we are all solid here.”
“This year, we need him more up. He came to me after the first couple of weeks and said ‘coach, we can’t get away against these better teams with me being in the midfield. I need to go back and be part of the defense.’ He was right about that.”
It was 2-0 and 6-1 losses to Hand that made Buchanan realize he needed to split his time in the midfield and the defense.
It is hard not to mention Guilford soccer without mentioning Hand, and it is hard to talk about Buchanan without mentioning the All-State striker from Hand, Scott Testori.
Because Guilford and Hand are both in the same region this fall (SCC-B) they face each other three times in the regular season.
Last year, the rivals played four times.
They tied in the first meeting, Guilford won the second game 1-0, Guilford won the SCC title game over the Tigers 1-0 and finally, Hand knocked Guilford out of the Class L semifinals, 2-1 on penalty kicks.
That would acquaint the two All-State players enough but they have also been teammates on the CT Rush travel team for the past six years.
“It’s weird being teammates and good friends and then having to get on the pitch as rivals and sworn enemies. It’s always a good battle getting to go against Aidan,” Testori said. “He knows the game so well and knows me very well which makes it tough to go against him. He reads attackers so well, he’s solid one-on-one and is always in control out there.”
Testori said despite the two facing each other in the SCC championship game and state tournament, their friendship always comes first.
“After the SCC final I texted him and congratulated him and he did the same after states,” Testori said. “We will text after every game we play against each other about who played better or talk about the refs or whatever happened. Even this year, we are texting with each other. We always keep it cool off the field even though we go at it during games.”
Buchanan loves the chance to play against the best.
“It’s a big challenge,” Buchanan said. “I have played with Scott for six years and I know how he plays, which helps a bit. Him having the help of (Jason) Wallack and (Chris) Porte up top is just deadly. Those are the games I always want to play.”
Last season, with Buchanan anchoring a defense featuring three seniors, Guilford won its first SCC title since 2009, going 15-2-6 in the regular season.
In the four Hand games and a matchup against Bristol Eastern and All-State striker Jake Woznicki in the state quarterfinals, Guilford held the opposing top forwards to just one goal.
When Guilford held Woznicki scoreless, it was the first time he did not get a goal after scoring in nine-straight contests.
“Last year, we played Hand four times and Bristol Eastern with their great striker and in those five games we let up one goal to those All-American forwards. Aidan is the reason why,” Gullette said. “We don’t do man-marking. He just always knew where to be. He was the safeguard and was commanding where the other guys would be. Those other guys were also tactically better than what we have so far this year. But it was Aidan organizing the defense in those games.”
Buchanan has started for Guilford since his first game as a freshman, instantly displaying not only his soccer skills but also his leadership.
“He has started every single game since the first day of his freshman year,” Gullette said. “We had heard about him from middle school and some premier teams. Once we saw him freshman year we knew. It was immediate. Size, presence, skill. He just demands the ball and is a natural leader. From the get-go. If you saw him that first year you would never pick him out as being a freshman. He was leading kids from day one, telling seniors where to be and they listened because it was obvious he knew what he was doing.”
That leadership has continued this season.
With large chunks of the SCC championship team gone to graduation, including his three defensive compatriots, Buchanan has embraced even more responsibility this season.
And while he is pushing up at times when he moves to center midfield, his mind is always that of a defender.
“It changed a lot from last year. Losing three of our starting defenders from last year is really tough. It took us a couple of games this year to work things out,” Buchanan said. “Against Branford the other day (2-0 Guilford win), I thought we played really well defensively. Keeping a clean sheet was nice. It seemed like we worked out some of those things defensively. It is hard to get used to. Last year, we had all played together for a few years and built up that connection. This year I sort of have to communicate more and learn the ways these new defenders play.”
For Buchanan, it is always all about the team and what puts them in the best position to win games.
Whether he is in the midfield or home on the backline, Buchanan will continue to be one of the state’s best players, regardless of position.
“It’s a lot of work to go back and forth but he’s up for the challenge. We play multiple different formations,” Gullette said. “That’s part of our style that we are gong to adapt and adjust and try to out-strategy the other team. He’s the one that sets that up on the field. I might come up with the idea with the other coaches but he organizes it on the field. He has that ability and awareness.”