Columbus Crew wins Urso memorial match with UNC

GREENSBORO — Each player on the field at UNC-Greensboro’s soccer stadium Sunday afternoon has likely played hundreds, if not thousands, of matches. But none of them were quite like this one.

The Columbus Crew, a Major League Soccer club, met the North Carolina men’s soccer team in a memorial match for Kirk Urso, who captained the 2011 NCAA championship-winning team and was drafted by the Crew in 2012.

Ticket sales and auction items sold during the match all benefited the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund that, in conjunction with the Children’s Heart Foundation, donates to congenital heart research.
The Crew won the exhibition 1-0 in front of a crowd of more than 2,000 fans.

“That’s the least that we could do to play against North Carolina,” Columbus coach Robert Warzycha said. “He played for North Carolina, that was his home for four years, and then obviously we had him for us thinking that it would be his home for many, many years.

“But unfortunately he died. But the least we can do, we can keep his memory alive because we always want to remember him.”

The Tar Heels played a competitive match with the Crew after a slow start. That’s exactly how North Carolina coach Carlos Somoano thought the game would go, because the Tar Heels haven’t played a game in a while and have a new lineup.

But UNC put together several good possessions against the professionals, and Josh Rice had a handful of looks on the goal. But none of those would sneak by the Crew goalkeeper. Ultimately, the Tar Heels’ energy and physicality gave way to the Crew’s strength and experience — also as Somoano predicted.

“We had a real good spurt for about 50-60 minutes, really good,” Somoano said. “I thought we would fade toward the end, and we did. I was just hoping that in between we could nick one, and during the moments I thought we would struggle and fade.

“I was hoping we could sustain it, but they got one there at the end and deservedly so. It was a good result for them, a deserved result for them, but I thought we played well. I’m proud of what we did.”

The Crew’s Konrad Warzycha, son of the Crew’s head coach, scored the match’s only goal in the 79th minute, tapping one in from short range off an assist from Justin Meram. Robert Warzycha was complimentary of the Tar Heels’ effort in holding down his squad, and maybe even a little surprised.

“I think everybody was thinking we’d play a friendly game,” the Crew coach said. “And then we find out very quickly that it’s not going to be that friendly, it’s going to be a normal game; so they had to work harder.”

Ben Speas, a midfielder with the Crew and a former Tar Heel, was also impressed with the way the Tar Heels played, but to him and the rest of the players involved, the actual contest was immaterial.

“I don’t know a better way (to honor Kirk), than to have both his families be here, all the fans, people that met him once, people that knew him for four years,” Speas said. “It’s great to see everyone here and everyone all for Kirk. I’m sure his family definitely feels touched.”

The game itself was an entertaining battle for those in attendance, and that too meant something to Speas.
“It was good,” he said. “It was a good battle, and I think Kirk would be proud.”

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