In the early hours of Aug. 5, 2012, Columbus Crew SC lost a family member.
"We had the game in D.C. and we didn’t find out until a little after 4:00 or 5:000 in the morning," Ethan Finlay remembered. "It was a real shock obviously."
Kirk Urso was a rookie in 2012 out of the University of North Carolina. He was selected by the Black & Gold with the 10th pick in the Supplemental Draft, shortly after Finlay was selected at the same point in the MLS SuperDraft.
"I just remember sitting there watching as the Supplemental Draft goes thinking, ‘I can’t believe this guy’s on the board still,’" Finlay recounted. "This is Kirk Urso, a Region II guy. He was our captain in Region II, he played with the national team, highly respected amongst his peers and I thought, ‘This would be a great asset for this time.’ And all of a sudden Kirk Urso gets picked and he’s coming here."
Fast-forward seven months and the 22-year old was gone before his adult life had really begun.
On the night of Aug. 4, Urso went out for a typical Saturday night. The midfielder was recovering from an injury so he was not on the road with Crew SC for the 1-0 loss to D.C. United.
While at local bar, Park Street Patio, Urso collapsed and police were called at 12:50 am. Urso was taken to Grant Hospital and pronounced dead at 1:51 am.
In the following days, the autopsy revealed the former UNC player suffered from arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy — a rare genetic heart condition that often results in cardiac arrest in young people.
"We take pride in the type of guys that we are and we feel like we’re standup guys and he was one of the most standup guys that we had on our time," Finlay said of Urso. "When you have speculation of other things: Did alcohol contribute? Did drugs? Obviously the coroner came back and said none of it did so, I think that was great clearing of his character and his name. It’s no problem if a guy goes out and has a couple drinks. We later find out it’s something that we never knew about."
For Finlay, and plenty of others who knew Urso, this day is difficult. Four years later and it doesn’t seem that Kirk is that far gone.
"Four years might seem like a long time but I woke up this morning and it didn’t seem so long," Finlay said. "He didn’t feel too far removed from it and that’s kind of maybe the personal relationship I had obviously with Kirk."
Finlay knew Urso from their time together as youth players. He watched as the Tar Heels lost three consecutive Final Four trips, but Urso would not give up on his dream of a national championship.
"He goes four years to the Final Four, every year. Doesn’t win it until his last year," Finlay said. "But I saw the two summers in between, he was the same Kirk. Same mentality, ‘(Shoot), we lost another one. We’re going to go back’ and they did.’ He kept going. He finally wins one in his senior year.
"I was so happy for him."
In Columbus, the two rookies lived together. Despite being selected in the SuperDraft, Urso impressed then head coach Robert Warzycha enough to start the opening day, which showed how seriously he took the game.
"He always was going to work hard on his game even though he knew maybe he wasn’t the most athletic guy, not the most creative guy," Finaly described Urso. "‘I will find a way to get on the field. I will do other things better than the next guy in front of me and I will ultimately get on and that was really his mentality."
For Finlay, Urso was more than a roommate; he was a friendly and a confidant. According to Finlay, the two could discuss nearly anything because that’s how Urso was.
"Kirk was a guy that you could sit on the couch with and go so many different directions," he explained. "He was a smart guy, he was a witty guy, his humor was fantastic, but at the same time he could lock in and have a really deep conversation with you.
"When you’re two new guys in a city, you don’t want a guy who’s blah and this guy was far from it. I can’t tell you how many times we just go post up at Easton and and just people watch, talk about whatever, get the Planet Smoothie that was up there and hang out. It’s weird stuff like that and the next thing you know, two or three hours goes by, we’d watched a movie and that’s what you could do with this guy."
On that Sunday morning in 2012, Finlay lost a close friend but gained some insight. Urso’s death helped bring awareness to the Crew SC midfielder.
"Sudden cardiac arrest is becoming a more common thing among young, male athletes. It’s an issue," he explained.
"The tough part is, one of the biggest symptoms of it is your first cardiac arrest. And if it can’t be dealt with in a mere five to 10 minutes, it can be catastrophic for you. So for me, it was kind of eye opening. Like wow when I started seeing all this information about everything that happened and about what he had, the cardiomyopathy. It’s something that’s more common in people than we kind of think, whether they get one or not."
Urso’s death also raised awareness for plenty of others. Crew SC began a the Kirk Uro Foundation, to generate funds for research on heart failure and cardiac arrest. The foundation has since expanded to help the Columbus community that Urso was a part of, despite only living in the city for a few months.
It also marked a rallying cry for a city that surrounded the team with support.
"The initial reaction was that we lost a young man, a professional athlete that lives in our city," Finlay remembered. "It wasn’t like we used it as a marketing scheme, but it brought interest not only to soccer, but I think it brought interest to Columbus Crew and this club and it was because of the reaction that the club made by honoring Kirk, by creating the fund for him. People then wanted to be a part of that, part of the Crew and they saw really want he meant to us and I think people obviously want to be a part of that."
In his 22 years of life, Urso touched many. On this day, those people take an extra moment to remember a son, a friend, a soccer player who was lost far too early.
"He was just a good, fun-loving guy but also a real soccer fanatic, loved life, deep thinker," Finlay said.
Kirk Urso, gone but not forgotten.