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Kirk Urso, pro soccer player from Lombard who collapsed and died, remembered for ‘always thinking how to get better’

FILE - In this March 31 2012 file phoColumbus Crew midfielder Kirk Urso right battles for ball with ToronFC forward

FILE - In this March 31, 2012 file photo, Columbus Crew midfielder Kirk Urso, right, battles for the ball with Toronto FC forward Ryan Johnson during first half MLS soccer action in Toronto. Urso has died at an Ohio hospital. Franklin County Coroner Dr. Jan Gorniak says Urso was pronounced dead at 1:50 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, at Grant Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. The coroner says no cause of death has been determined and an autopsy will be performed Monday. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn, File)

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Updated: September 8, 2012 6:17AM

Lombard native Kirk Urso’s skill and dedication earned him national recognition as a youth soccer player, a captain’s position on the nation’s No. 1-ranked University of North Carolina Tar Heels last year and, for a time this season, a starting position with Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew.

His life was cut short when he collapsed early Sunday at a restaurant and bar in Columbus, Ohio. He was rushed to Grant Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:50 a.m. Sunday.

An autopsy Monday points to an “apparent natural death,” said Franklin County, Ohio, Coroner Jan Gorniak, who said the 22-year-old had signs of an enlarged heart, though it wasn’t clear exactly what caused his death. Gorniak planned further tests.

Mr. Urso was a hardworking midfielder who preferred to help his teammates shine rather than grab the glory himself.

He grew up in Lombard and attended Glenbard East High School before being selected for U.S. Soccer’s elite residency program and moving to the IMG Soccer Academy in Bradenton, Fla., beginning his sophomore year.

Mr. Urso was a member of the 2007 U.S. under-17 World Cup team and went on to star at North Carolina, where he participated in four national championship College Cup final fours. In 2011, he was a captain of UNC’s national championship-winning team.

Then, after being passed over in the MLS Superdraft, Mr. Urso was picked up by the Crew in the league’s supplemental draft. It was hardly the script for professional stardom. Still, he made the team and, taking advantage of an injury to a teammate, emerged as a starter, playing in six games before being injured in May.

“He only took two months to show us how good he is,” said Crew coach Robert Warzycha. “Whenever you would talk to him about what he has to do on the field, he would do it in a second. He was always thinking how to get better.”

Mr. Urso had been rehabbing in recent weeks after undergoing abdominal surgery similar to hernia repair, according to Warzycha.

Mr. Urso showed his character during his recovery, said David Richardson, who coached him for 12 years with the northwest suburban Sockers FC Chicago club team. When Sockers players traveled to play in Columbus recently, Mr. Urso “just came out” to cheer them on. It was “complete, pouring-down rain, and Kirk, on his own, came out to the game and sat on the bench, got wet, to see some of the young guys and some of the coaches who worked with him.”

At Sunday’s two MLS games, there was a moment of silence in Mr. Urso’s honor. North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham called Mr. Urso “a natural leader” and said his former teammates and coaches there were devastated by his death. Soccer legend Mia Hamm, a UNC alum, tweeted, “All our thoughts and prayers are with Kirk Urso’s family, friends and teammates.”

Mr. Urso’s family was in Columbus Monday working on funeral arrangements, according to a spokesman for the Crew.

He is survived by his parents, Sandra and Michael, and an older brother, Kyle, who played soccer at the University of New Hampshire.

Contributing: AP

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