If the Houston Dynamo make a march through the MLS playoffs again this year, it will be without Jermaine Taylor.
Houston’s starting center back, who was also a regular on the Jamaican national team throughout their World Cup qualifying run, has been ruled out of the playoffs due to a Jones fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot.
“Jermaine’s been a big part of what we’ve been doing the last two years,” said center back Bobby Boswell. “He’s a good defender and a hard guy to replace.”
The man tasked with the difficult job of filling Taylor's shoes in Thursday's Knockout Round playoff game vs. the Montreal Impact (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS), and likely for any potential playoff matchups to come, will be Eric Brunner.
The former Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew defender was traded to the Dynamo just days after Houston's loss to the LA Galaxy in the 2012 MLS Cup final. Until now, he’s served in spot duty, appearing in 13 games while starting nine.
But from here forward, Brunner will join Boswell as the likely duo at the heart of the Dynamo defense.
“I’ve played a lot of games so I know what to expect,” Brunner said. “I’ve played in two playoffs. I’ve played in a couple of CONCACAF [Champions Leagues] before. My mentality has been the same and will stay the same, it’s just now the stakes are a little higher.
Said Boswell: “Eric Brunner’s a veteran of this league and knows what it takes to win. He and I are working on our communication, which is a big part of it, but we understand if we’re good in our communication and with the guys in front of us, our jobs will be a lot easier. He’s a gamer. He definitely steps up when he’s called upon.”
Head coach Dominic Kinnear says he has liked Brunner since the center back was with the Crew, and picked him up for just these type of situations.
“He’s not overawed by anything and I think he’s shown that this year,” Kinnear said. “Sometimes he’s called upon in the fifth minute of the game and sometimes he’s had two days to prepare. He’s ready.”
Swapping Brunner in for Taylor will make this the third year in a row the Dynamo have lost a starter in the playoffs. In 2011, Taylor slotted into the midfield for Brad Davis, who injured his quad in the Eastern Conference final. In last season's MLS Cup, Houston dealt with an ACL injury to goalscorer Calen Carr.
This year the Dynamo have time to prepare. Taylor missed Sunday’s win over D.C. United, and Brunner took his place at RFK Stadium. Last Thursday he played a full 90 minutes in Houston's CONCACAF Champions League loss to Arabe Unido in Panama. Those are games that should help Brunner as he steps into the limelight for the Dynamo once again.
“It’s difficult to come off the bench in a defensive role,” said goalkeeper Tally Hall. “There’s so much organization and team work and communication. There’s a lot that goes into being a defender or a goalkeeper. When you add a new guy into that mix it can be difficult, and he’s come on and done an excellent job.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.