As the team leader in starts and minutes in 2011, Eric Brunner looked like a lock to be one of the starting center backs in the Timbers' second MLS season. He started 10 of the first 12 games of the season and scored the first goal in the Timbers' match against the Chicago Fire, breaking a long scoreless streak for the Timbers and proving that they could, in fact, score at the goal away from the Timbers Army.
The season went awry in May, when the Timbers met the Vancouver Whitecaps for the the first time in 2012 and Brunner was subbed out after sustaining a concussion in the first half. The concussion kept him out practice for several weeks and shortly after returning to practice, he injured his knee and was sidelined again. Brunner didn't play again until September, when he appeared as a sub in the Timbers' 2-2 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes. He made two more appearance before the end of the season, both times as a sub, but he never looked as fit or as comfortable on the field after as he did before his injury.
Should he have been traded?
With Brunner, Hanyer Mosquera, and David Horst at fairly similar skill levels, it is hard to say with confidence that Brunner was our single best center back, but he probably was the team's best leader at that position. He could often be seen shouting to his teammates and directing things on the back line. In 2011, when he played nearly every game, Brunner's few absences were noticeable because the defense looked less together, and the Timbers' defense in 2012 frequently looked like they were missing a leader. As a bonus, Brunner was also the Timbers' biggest aerial threat on set pieces. Although Brunner looked shaky in his few appearances at the end of the season, I would have liked to see the Timbers keep him around and give him a chance to get back to his pre-concussion self.
Dissenting opinion - Geoff
Absolutely. No offense to Brunner, but during the 2012 season he was out for far too long. Not that he couldn't have had a resurgence, but during his downtime it gave David Horst some time in the spotlight and boy did he shine! The Timbers need a better defense, I'm not still not 100% sold on a Horst, Mosquera lead center back, but I also didn't see where Brunner would fit in after 2012. Was he just supposed to wait around until one of them were injured and he could get his moment to prove himself? No way. He's had too much value attached to his name, and the allocation money received from Houston should help cover the cost of more additions to the team.