Crew Cuts: Back home

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Eric Brunner is not your typical prodigal son. The former Dublin Scioto and Ohio State star has been trying as hard as he can to get back home.

Last year the New York Red Bulls picked Brunner in the MLS SuperDraft. He signed with the senior roster, but when the Red Bulls tried to relegate him to a developmental contract, Brunner quit rather than negotiate a pay cut.

Around that time, Brunner and his hometown Columbus Crew started batting eyelashes at each other, but New York refused to relinquish Brunner's rights, so he spent a year with Miami FC of the minor league USL-1. This spring, it became clear New York didn't want Brunner, so at long last the club traded the defender's rights to Columbus.

Brunner played his first Crew game Saturday as Columbus drew 1-1 with the Colorado Rapids, filling the big boots of reigning MLS Defender of the Year Chad Marshall.

"To have my parents watch my first professional game in MLS and to be in my hometown is just an honor," Brunner said post-game. "I was extremely excited and pumped and just wanted to do well for the city."

He did well indeed, sending a header off the crossbar and shutting down Rapids scoring threat Conor Casey. When Casey broke through for the tying goal in the 83rd minute, Brunner wasn't to blame.

"I went in with confidence that I could try to shut down Casey," Brunner explained. "I watched video of what he was really good at, which was chesting the ball and winning flicks and stuff. And I thought I could put a body on him in those situations and just mess him up a little bit so he had to worry about me and less on the ball."

The Crew posted a pair of Columbus kids together in central defense, teaming Brunner with Worthington native Danny O'Rourke.

"For his first game with the Crew, he played very well," O'Rourke said. "I think he shut down Casey. He was winning a lot of balls. He was solid. It was easy to play next to him."

Brunner wasn't perfect, of course. At one point, the former Buckeye got tangled up with the ball beneath his feet near the Crew goalmouth, leaving Columbus in a precarious position.

"It was one of those things, I looked at Danny and you go 'Woof!' I hope that doesn't happen again," Brunner said.

Brunner also took an elbow to the face from Casey that forced him to replace his bloody jersey. The Crew defender immediately continued to physically challenge Colorado's chrome-domed forward.

"I'm not going to let him walk all over me," Brunner said. "I didn't want to be retaliating, but I wanted to say, 'Hey, I'm here too.'"

What's next for the Crew?

After the second roughest opening stretch in club history (0-2-3), Columbus has a bye week to prepare for an April 25 visit from Brian McBride and the archrival Chicago Fire.

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