COLUMBUS, Ohio – The day after Kirk Urso passed away, Crew head coach Robert Warzycha visited the bereaved family at a Columbus hotel.
Urso died early Sunday of an undetermined cause after collapsing in a Columbus restaurant/bar.
An autopsy Monday was inconclusive and a toxicology report could take up to six weeks. The Associated Press quoted Franklin County coroner Jan Gorniak as saying, “It’s leaning toward an apparent natural death, but we don’t know why.” Gorniak also added that there were some “heart changes.”
“What that means is we saw some changes with his heart but we don’t know what it is until we examine it underneath the microscope,” Gorniak told the AP. “So it could be something or it could be nothing. But it’s not definitive as a cause of death right now.”
Obviously, this was a not a normal Monday for a stunned Crew organization.
Coming to grips with the tragedy, especially during the season, is going to be difficult, but club president and general manager Mark McCullers needs only to look a few miles away to the Ohio State men’s soccer team for guidance. On Sept. 26, 2001, OSU freshman walk-on Connor Senn collapsed during a game at Akron University and died that night from a congenital heart defect.
The pro team and the school are linked through the annual Connor Senn Memorial Match to raise funds for an endowed scholarship in Senn’s name and awareness of sudden cardiac arrest.
After getting over the initial shock of learning about Urso’s death, McCullers said he “immediately thought about Connor Senn in context of a team, [in] context of a sport. There are similarities to our situation.”
Ohio State head coach John Bluem, in a phone interview with MLSsoccer.com on Monday, said it’s important to let everyone know they are not alone in their grieving.
“More than anything else we made sure there was a lot of support for the players,” Bluem said. “Have psychologists if anyone wants to talk. We didn’t want to force it on anyone but, ‘Here’s a name and number if you want to talk to anybody.’
“We spent a lot of time together as a team and with our staff talking about things and asking everybody to look out for each other and to take care of each other,” he added. “Don’t let anybody on the team hang out there by themselves. If somebody’s really struggling, make sure somebody’s with them.”
McCullers said Sunday that OhioHealth has offered grief counselors to the team and staff.
The Crew had a scheduled off day Monday but will resume practice Tuesday. After first sending notice that the last portion of the session would be open to the media, a later announcement from the club stated that it would be closed and no interviews would be conducted at their Obetz training facility.
“I am not sure how we’re going to be tomorrow, to be honest with you,” Warzycha said.
Urso, a rookie midfielder who captained North Carolina to the College Cup championship last December, started the first five Crew matches but underwent surgery to repair an adductor strain in June and was not with the team for Saturday’s match at D.C. United.
Warzycha gathered the players in a room at the team hotel and broke the news. As a father of three, he is still coming to grips with Urso’s death, especially after meeting with the player's parents.
“I cannot imagine what they’re going through,” he said. “There are no words to describe it.”
Warzycha added that it’s impossible to separate the team’s emotions right now from what they need to do on the field Saturday against Toronto FC.
“After all, we’re human beings,” Warzycha said. “We will always remember him when we step on the field but we have to do what Kirk wanted us to do. He’d want us to go on the field and win the game and play as hard as he did.”