Glen Buchanan, the stopper back on American University's soccer team, looked out the window and agreed the snow-capped Cascade Mountains in the distance were a long way and a far cry from the Blue Ridge of his native Virginia.

Buchanan got a good look at the Cascade range as the airplane carrying him and his American University teammates flew into Seattle Thursday for Saturday's NCAA soccer final in the Kingdome.

Buchanan, a senior from Annandale, is one of the reasons the Eagles (19-2-2) have reached the tournament final against UCLA (19-1-4). He is the team's only Washington-area starter, although freshman forward Billy Corbett of Olney, senior midfielder Henry Wagner of Severna Park and junior fullback Mike Russell of Arlington also have contributed as reserves.

Buchanan is 6 feet 2, tall by soccer standards, a sport where a low center of gravity often is an advantage. Because of his height and his heading ability, he is vital to the American defense, which gave up 13 goals and recorded 12 shutouts.

"I wouldn't be playing if I couldn't head the ball the way I do," he said. Buchanan's ability to control the air around the Eagles' cage complements perfectly the skills of the three other defenders who make up American's back line.

Keith Trehy, the sweeper from London, is the most technically refined member of the back four, but he is only 5-7. One of the outside backs, Troy Regis from Trinidad is the quickest of the lot and usually marks the opponent's most dangerous striker or fastest wing, but he is 5-8.

The other outside back, Serge Torreilles from Pau, France, is able to strike the ball the farthest and is the most artistic passer, but he is 5-9. The other defenders' height makes Buchanan vital, although he is slower than the others and not as adroit a passer.

"I know I can't run with a guy out on the wing," Buchanan said. "Troy and Serge know if they're against a 6-footer they'll need help in the air."

Against the Bruins, who are tall and athletic, Buchanan's role might be amplified.

"In my opinion, we can't do without a player like Glen," said American Coach Pete Mehlert.

But the Eagles almost had to get along without Buchanan.

When Buchanan, who started playing soccer for the Annandale Boys Club at the age of 8, was a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, he was interested in attending North Carolina State. "They treat soccer players like gods down there," he said.

He also spoke with Virginia Coach Bruce Arena. And three of his club teammates, Dan Horton, Brant Vitek and Mike Volpe, wound up playing at Virginia, where ACC championships are the goal and national championships perennially are within reach.

Buchanan said he soured on N.C. State when the coach, Larry Gross, gave him the impression he was as committed to coaching lacrosse as he was to coaching soccer. Arena's one-stop recruiting in Northern Virginia did not include a scholarship offer for Buchanan. He might have taken it. "How can you turn down those facilities?" he said.

Now he plays for a school whose field is mostly dirt, and he receives only a partial scholarship. But he also is playing in the NCAA final.

"I just start thinking of the Kingdome and I start getting butterflies," Buchanan said. "It seems like the strangest place to have a soccer championship."