But Brunner has plenty to keep him busy when he's off the field.
Ever since he cracked open his first Nintendo as a kid, Brunner has been a diehard gamer. And now even as a 28-year-old professional soccer player, Brunner uses it to connect with his fan base.
“It was cool seeing how gaming brought in any type of fan, whether they liked your team or not,” Brunner told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s a pretty cool way to get in touch with fans in a different way. You have to be comfortable with what you do because there’s going to be the haters out there that’ll come in and poke fun and you’ve got to have thick skin.”
A self-described techie, the center back allows fans to watch him in action during roleplaying games like Call of Duty and FIFA via an app called Overdog, which allows users to stream their game play.
Who is watching? According to Brunner, his audience varies from young to old, gaming fans to soccer supporters. As he plays, he gets to interact with whoever is on the other side of the headset.
“For me, it’s about hand-eye coordination and reading the player," Brunner says about his gaming philosophy. "I feel you can translate a little of that from soccer to the video games. It’s interesting to me how that can relate. Just thinking quick and reading people.”
“I find [Eric] incredibly special in this area because he does in particular recognize the ability to reach fans with social media,” said Amanda Vandervort, MLS’s director of social media, who provides media training to clubs.
“Soccer’s his passion but his other passion is gaming and there’s a whole community of people he can connect to through that. He’s one to always push the social boundaries and do cool stuff and innovate.”
That innovation is allowing him to connect with fans who wouldn't otherwise have access to a pro athlete. Brunner is only one of a handful of athletes across pro sports that stream their gaming.
“There are instances where you can give him grief for it, but for the most part guys respect it and they give him credit for it,” said his former Portland Timbers and now Dynamo teammate David Horst. “Video games are becoming more and more a part of our culture and Eric’s a little ahead of the curve.
"Eric’s a normal guy just like anyone and it’s cool he’s able to connect with them on that level.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.