MONTREAL (AP) – Though he had only been a professional soccer player for a matter of eight months, Kirk Urso had ties throughout the American soccer community. Former teammates, opponents and friends came to grips with the devastating news that Urso passed away at the age of 22 Sunday morning.
The Twitter messages came in from all corners, from former Columbus Crew goalkeeper Brad Friedel to fellow University of North Carolina alumnus Mia Hamm. Urso's death devastated teammates, and even touched those who briefly knew him. His carefree personality off the field and fierce determination on the field captivated people across the country.
"I'm not sure I ever saw anything but a smile on his face, he was just a happy kid," said Real Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson, who grew up with Urso in the suburbs of Chicago. "He worked extremely hard to become a pro, which was always his dream."
To understand why Urso made such an impression on so many people at such a young age, you need only talk to Philadelphia Union head coach John Hackworth, who coached Urso with the US Under-17 national team. Hackworth recalls a road trip to Jamaica when he left Urso out of the starting lineup with the U-17s. Urso asked Hackworth what he needed to do to play more and Hackworth told him he needed to find a way to be technically better than everybody else.
Shortly after that discussion, Hackworth found Urso working on his own, volleying a soccer ball against a hotel wall. Two hours later, Hackworth stumbled upon Urso again, and there he was, still kicking that ball against the wall, trying his hardest to get better.
"He was one of the best kids I ever had the good fortune to be around," Hackworth said. "I respected the way he lived his life every day. He was happy, but he was one of the most committed, dedicated and hard-working kids I've been around
"He didn't have as much talent as some of the other kids, but he had ten times the heart, which is probably why he made such an impression."
Urso kept on working and eventually found his way onto the field for the U-17s in the 2007 Under-17 World Cup. After failing to make an appearance in the team's first two matches, Urso came off the bench in the group stage finale and promptly scored the eventual game-winning goal against a Belgium team that included Chelsea star Eden Hazard.
Urso earned a scholarship to the University of North Carolina, and his hard work earned him a place in the starting lineup from his freshman season on. After four years and four trips to the NCAA Final Four, Urso served as captain on the Tar Heels team that won the NCAA title last December.
As he turned his attentions to a professional career, Urso continued to face the obstacles that he had overcome throughout his soccer-playing life. Scouts looked at Urso's lack of athleticism and overlooked his winning track record and went undrafted in the 2012 MLS Draft. The Columbus Crew took a chance on Urso in the supplemental draft and Urso responded to the opportunity by playing well enough to start in the Crew's first five matches, a rare accomplishment for a rookie coming out of the supplemental draft.
Though he played sparingly after that strong start, Urso was still considered a prospect worth tracking. A 22-year-old with an unmatched work ethic and infectious personality, the professional career he spent his young life working towards was becoming reality. There was little reason to think he would not keep improving and keep making the most of every opportunity that came his way.
That is what so many people in the American soccer world are remembering; a player who loved the game and who made a lasting impression even though his career, and life, were cut short in tragic fashion.
"It's hard not to like a kid when he has that much passion," Hackworth said. "That's why he left such an impression on so many people."