With or without Brunner, Timbers seek better defense

Eric Brunner was red-carded for this challenge on Lamar Neagle.

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Seattle Sounders FC

PORTLAND, Ore. — As if the Portland Timbers defense needed another challenge, it will be without back line leader Eric Brunner for their upcoming match Saturday against Chicago.

Brunner was sent off in the Timbers devastating 3-2 loss last Sunday against Seattle. His tackle on Seattle's Lamar Neagle in the box led to the game-winning penalty kick and means he’ll have to sit out the next game.

Brunner has played just about every minute of all 16 games, even though head coach John Spencer has shuffled a variety of players around him. Spencer said Kevin Goldthwaite, who has started two games and played in three, will start in Brunner’s place.

WATCH: Brunner upends Neagle
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“I don’t think it affects the back line,” Spencer said. “Kevin Goldthwaite has worked hard in training and he’s been patient waiting for his chance, so he’ll get the chance to play this weekend. He tells me he should be on the team. Go play. Go show me you should be on the team. It’s easy to talk, it’s a lot harder to do.”

Still, being without a top player at any position couldn’t have come at a worse time. The spotlight has been on the Timbers defense over the past several weeks as the team’s winless streak has dragged on to seven games.

And for good reason:

  • Allowing three goals — including the equalizer in stoppage time — in a 3-3 tie at home against New York on June 19.
  • On June 25, a 4-0 loss on the road against Dallas.
  • Squandering two leads Sunday against Seattle.

At training Tuesday at JELD-WEN Field, Spencer had his team working on endurance with the ball, the idea being to keep players focused for an entire 90-plus minutes. Spencer said after the Seattle loss that his team is suffering from mental lapses, and they’ve paid for it.

“It was good for physical endurance but also mental endurance,” said defender Steve Purdy, who started on the back line Sunday in place of Jeremy Hall. “We have had a tendency to take off a couple plays, and we did against Seattle. So we’re working on that mental restraint so we can stay alert every second of the game and focus on the details. If we’re not on point every play then you get punished.”

Purdy said the team’s struggles aren’t a matter of who’s on the field or of tactics but rather the mental side of things.

“We’re a better team than what we’re showing, and we finally have to apply what we’ve learned and put that into a 90 minute game,” Purdy said. “Because we’ve let some great opportunities get away.”