OBETZ, Ohio – Crew players and staff members will indeed get their chance to pay tribute to Kirk Urso, and it's only fitting. Soccer is simply secondary in Columbus right now.
Major League Soccer announced on Thursday night that the team's scheduled match against Toronto FC has been postponed so that Crew players and staff can attend Urso's funeral on Saturday in Illinois.
“It means everything to go [to the funeral],” captain Chad Marshall told MLSsoccer.com after practice Friday. “No soccer game is more important or even comes close to going there and paying our respects to him and his family. He was a member of our family.”
Urso, a 22-year-old rookie midfielder, died unexpectedly Sunday morning from apparent "natural" causes, although investigations are still ongoing into the cause of death. A bus carrying the players and coaches left the Obetz training center at noon on Friday for the Chicago suburb of Lombard for the evening’s wake and the funeral midday Saturday.
The game against Toronto was originally scheduled for 7:30 pm ET on Saturday, and returning for it would have been a logistics problem, even if the players had wanted to play.
“It would have been such an emotional strain on everybody to have gone to the wake, the funeral, get back and all the memorial stuff that would have been going on at the stadium – the [tribute] video, everything," goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said. “I almost feel like it would have been a little much.”
Gruenebaum said there was no question from the onset that the whole team would travel to Illinois, but the issue of whether the match would be played wasn’t decided until late Thursday evening after discussions between the Crew, MLS and Toronto.
“There were scenarios that played out all week if we chartered back after the funeral and played the game that night,” Marshall said. “Ultimately, we decided that would be too much of a day. You say, ‘oh yeah, I want to come back and play for him’ and we do, but that day’s going to be so emotional and draining. It’s not the smart thing to do.”
The match is rescheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 22 and will be the third of six games in 18 days for Columbus.
Tributes by the Crew for Urso that were planned before Saturday’s match will be held on Aug. 15 when they host the LA Galaxy in the first of three consecutive midweek games.
“It’s nothing we haven’t had before when we were in the Champions League,” Marshall said. “We seemed to go Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday for two months in a row late in the season. It’s a grind for sure. We’re getting guys healthy. We’re going to need to be deep. Maybe guys who haven’t done much this year are going to get called upon. I’m sure they’ll step up.”
On the positive side, four of the next six games are at home and only the Aug. 19 match at Houston is out of the Eastern time zone.
Gruenebaum said, however, that now is not the time to think about the schedule.
“We’ll deal with it starting Wednesday,” he said. “This [weekend] is all that matters. There’s life beyond soccer. Results, wins, losses – that stuff is secondary right now. We’re happy we can go and support Kirk’s family.”
Craig Merz covers the Columbus Crew for MLSsoccer.com.