Chris Uhler / The Lantern
Eric Brunner knows how to perform well for his team, past and present.
Just two years ago, the starting Columbus Crew defender was leading the Ohio State men’s soccer team to the 2007 NCAA College Cup National Championship and its winningest season in program history as a senior team captain.
Today, the native of Dublin, Ohio prepares with the rest of the black and gold for the CONCACAF Champions League matchup vs. Saprissa of Costa Rica in an 8 p.m. kickoff at Crew Stadium.
A Crew victory will advance the team through group play into the quarterfinals of the International Championship League.
Between the Champions League and MLS play, the Crew is in the process of completing seven matches in 21 days, and Brunner has done his part.
Last Saturday, in MLS play, Columbus (12-4-10) defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-0, in front of a sell-out crowd to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference and continue its MLS-record home unbeaten streak to 24 matches.
En route to the Crew’s eighth shutout of the season, in the 59th minute, Brunner blasted an 80-yard ball down the left side where forward Emilio Renteria ran onto the pass and headed into the penalty area to set up the final goal of the match.
“They’re a really good team,” Brunner, who has started 20 games for the Crew in 2009, said. “They’ve had some great results this year and only lost a handful of games this season and we knew they were going to come in tough. We just wanted to out-work them and let the ball do the work on a fast pitch.”
Winning matches with a complete team effort has been the name of the game for the defending MLS champions.
Columbus Crew coach Robert Warzycha’s plan coming into the final month of regular-season play is making sure his players are well rested and ready to compete when their numbers are called.
“We have a very important game against Saprissa,” Warzycha said. “We don’t have a reserve on the team. Everybody here on this club is contributing. We have a very deep squad. I can go with any player and as long as we are playing as a team, we can be very successful.”
This game is crucial for both teams. In the Champions League standings in Group C, the Crew (2-2-0) sits in second with six points, while Saprissa (1-2-1) follows in third with four points. Earlier this month, on Sept. 16, the Crew defeated Saprissa on the road 1-0, and look forward to continued success against its group opponent.
The 23-year-old Brunner, a former first-team All-Big Ten and NSCAA first-team All-American with the Buckeyes, will consistently have an impact stopping opposing forwards, and as shown over the weekend can make game-changing plays for the offense.
The Crew returns to MLS play 7:30 p.m. Saturday against the Seattle Sounders FC at Crew Stadium to complete a four-match home swing.