Portland Timbers coach John Spencer knew that Saturday's match against the Columbus Crew would be important to Eric Brunner. The defender played the last two seasons in Columbus before being selected in the second round of the 2010 MLS expansion draft.
Spencer, a former player, has a deep understanding of how sensitive young players can be. So, on Friday Spencer reached out to Brunner with a text message expressing his confidence that Brunner would play well when he stepped onto the Jeld-Wen Field pitch.
'I texted Eric Brunner last night at about 9:45 and told him, 'There's a Columbus player that's going to kick his (butt) tomorrow,' ' Spencer said, after Saturday's match.
Brunner did not reply to Spencer's text.
'I don't know if he was in his bed or getting ready for the game, hopefully, or he was out, I don't know, having some tea,' Spencer said.
Brunner said he was in bed getting ready for the match. He did receive Spencer's text, he just could not figure out the proper reply.
'I just kind of let it be and focused on the game for the next day,' Brunner said.
Well, it may have taken him about 24 hours, but Brunner did come up with the perfect response to Spencer's text.
After a Crew foul on the right side in the 46th minute, midfielder Jack Jewsbury took a quick free kick. He slid the ball over to Kalif Alhassan, and the midfielder made a short run before sending in a cross to Brunner.
The 6-4, 170-pound Brunner knocked a header just to the left of Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer, and the Timbers went on to win 1-0.
After the goal, Brunner ran to the sidelines and jumped into the arms of Spencer.
'It wasn't planned,' Spencer said. 'Maybe it was something to do with the text last night? Just to see his big stupid face so smiley and so happy, it made me feel good.'
Whoa, whoa, coach - Brunner has a big stupid face?
'Yeah,' Spencer said, laughing. ' Sometimes. His mom would probably disagree, but …'
Spencer made sure Brunner did not allow scoring the goal to weaken the pressure the defender had been putting on the Crew strikers all night.
'I scored and (Spencer) was right back to business and said to concentrate for the next 15 minutes,' Brunner said. 'And that's exactly what we did.'
Throughout the rest of the match, though, there was joy in the way Brunner played. Midway through the second half, as a ball went out of bounds, Brunner ran to the Columbus goal and grabbed Hesmer's water bottle to have a drink.
'I didn't mean any disrespect by it,' Brunner said. 'I was real thirsty, and unfortunately he didn't have enough water in there to get my thirst. But it was funny. It was a funny little moment.'
While he was happy to score the goal, Brunner said getting the win was more important to him.
'Just getting the three points at home and getting the shutout and completing the game as a team, that's a better feeling,' he said. 'It's nice to get a goal, but it comes down to the team. I don't score that goal unless Kalif plays the ball across the goal.'
Spencer, on the other hand, could not have been happier that Brunner was able to deliver the victory for the Timbers in a match that meant more to the defender than perhaps any other member of the club.
'It's special for him,' Spencer said. 'Obviously, coming up against your (old) club, it was good for him to get a goal and get the winner.'
As the Timbers walked off the pitch, Brunner found Spencer before they reached the locker room.
'He reminded me,' Spencer said, 'that nobody kicked his (butt) tonight.'