PORTLAND, Ore. — Eric Brunner is playing it low key this week with his former team, the Columbus Crew, coming to town on Saturday (10 pm ET, MatchDay Live).
But if the third-year pro from Dublin, Ohio, still harbors any bruised feelings over being unprotected last fall by the Crew ahead of the expansion draft, he isn’t saying.
It's likely, however, that any feelings of resentment against Columbus might run deep. Not only did he grow up in Ohio, he also attended Crew games as a kid. He even served as a ball boy for a game in the mid-1990s at Ohio Stadium. Then, he played three seasons at Ohio State.
In two seasons in Columbus, Brunner was the young guy on a back line with Argentine Gino Padula and captain Chad Marshall.
“I learned a great deal in the two years I was there,” Brunner said.
It was Marshall, in particular, who mentored Brunner on what it takes to be a top center back in MLS. The two still talk frequently. However, Brunner said he had not discussed Saturday’s game with Marshall.
“We might trade jerseys afterwards, but that’s the extent of it,” he said.
Brunner will use his inside knowledge of the Crew to help the Timbers defense keep the Columbus forwards in check. And this one, according to Brunner, certainly won't be a grudge match.
“It could be hyped like that, but for me, it’s about focusing what our team has to do to keep JELD-WEN a solid place for us to play in,” Brunner said.
Jeremy Hall — who will get his own reunion against his former club when the Timbers face the New York Red Bulls this season — began the year in the midfield but has moved back to defense, where he plays alongside the 6-foot-3 tandem of Brunner and Futty Danso.
“[Brunner] is one of those big, steady bodies who has played well for us all season,” Hall said. “He plays hard. He breaks plays up. He’s a good communicator. He has his head on a swivel, always looking around. He’s a guy we need back there.”
The evolving partnership between Brunner and Danso, playing in front of goalkeeper Troy Perkins, is a key reason the Timbers have allowed one goal in the last three games.
“Brunner’s probably one of the best center backs right now,” Hall said. “I’m sure Columbus are kicking themselves. He’s going to have a big day against them. He knows those guys, the forwards he’s going to go up against, so we’re happy to have him on our side.”
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