THE words were reflective but didn't come easily and everyone I talked to last weekend ended their interviews the same way - with an incomplete thought that trailed off into silence.
That's not surprising because Kirk Urso, the Columbus Crew rookie midfielder who died suddenly one awful morning exactly one year ago today, led an unfinished life before it was cut short at the age of 22 by an undetected congenital heart defect.
His time was brief but he left an impression wherever he went, whether it was the U.S. Under-17 program, captaining North Carolina to the 2011 College Cup title or proving critics wrong by earning starts for the Crew last season as a rookie after not being selected in the MLS SuperDraft.
Today, his Crew brethren, including his roommate last season, Ethan Finlay, will gather to share stories.
"We have a little something planned to try and honor him, a memorial thing," he said. "It's an open invite for the guys on the team who want to come. Some of these guys didn't know him. We'll do something then maybe go out and have a drink, think about him and talk about him."
Midfielder Ben Speas, a teammate of Urso's for one season at North Carolina, knows people around the country will have Urso on their minds today.
"I'll talk to some people from UNC that Kirk and I both knew," Speas said. "I think about him a lot regardless. It's probably going to be an emotional day. You remember him a little extra, our relationship."
Urso had an uncanny ability to make friends out of strangers and do so quickly. He also was a master prankster who left his "victims" smiling. And, oh, yes, he was just starting to develop as a professional player when an adductor injury sent him under the knife in June 2012.
Because he was still rehabbing from the surgery he was not with the team Aug. 4 for the match at D.C. United but that day he sent from Columbus to his teammates what would be his final words on Twitter:
After watching the match, Urso was at a Columbus club when he collapsed. He was transported unconscious to a hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1:51 a.m. on Aug. 5. Seven weeks later an autopsy revealed he died of died of arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy — a rare, genetic condition that can cause sudden death in athletes and young people. Today, the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund raises funds in hopes that someday others don’t have to experience the heartbreak his family and friends have endured the past 365 days.
"It doesn't seem like a year," Speas told me. "It seems like he's still here practicing with us. I haven't really thought about that part much. I think about Kirk…"
There was nothing more to say. Urso was funny and introspective. He would catch you off guard with a quip but also catch you if you were falling. That's what made him such a great leader and an unforgettable person.
So, while today is one of sorrow, Urso would want those who knew and loved him not to grieve.
"We'll remember what he did here in a short time and the memories we have of him," Finlay said.
"It's weird to think that's it's only been a year because at times, I don’t want to say you forget, but you lose track of time because it does seem like he was just here yesterday."
Crew coach Robert Warzycha once told me he thinks of Urso's passing every day but today will be different for him and everyone associated with the Crew:
"We're going to laugh and celebrate his life, not his death."
Warzycha also said dealing with the loss of Urso has been the hardest thing he's gone through in his long professional career.
"He was a nice player, an even nicer person. It's a tough one…"
Finlay knows that as well as anybody on the Crew. He and Urso were teammates on a youth team and with the Chicago Fire Premier Developmental League team in 2010 when Urso would fool people with his fake British accent.
Then, they were reunited in Columbus last year and decided to room together. They talked soccer occasionally but mostly about what they wanted to accomplish in life and dreams that were within reach - if only they had the time.
Finlay misses those conversations. Shortly after Urso's death he moved to a different apartment but admitted recently the past year has not been easy for him. He realizes that things will never be the same, only different. But life must go on.
"It changed my everyday life. That's what I had to adjust to mostly outside of soccer," he said. "But it's been okay. It's been nice my girlfriend is here. It's nice to have a support system outside of the team. There's days you come here (to practice) and battle and you just want to get away.
"I always had that with Kirk. That was kind of the thing that was missing. So when you have that with someone else now it's really nice."
This season has not been an easy one on the field for Finlay and the struggling Crew but he hopes today will serve as a reminder through Urso how much fun life can be. Relax and enjoy the ride.
I have my ups and downs," Finlay said. "Hopefully, I can get consistently playing again and go from there. It's been a rocky season for everyone.
"We'll see what happens but…"
[Photo from @EthanFinlay13 Twitter account today. Kirk (left) and Ethan a day before their first Crew home game on March 23, 2012.]