US SoccerUS Soccer

Bird Watching

Back in April, when the roster for the 2007 CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament was announced, Kirk Urso wasn’t a part of it. Obviously disappointed, he watched as his fellow teammates in Jamaica as they qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup with one goal: work harder to improve his game and keep his confidence up in order make his dream of playing in a World Cup a reality.

A few short months later, Urso’s reached his goal when he was named to the World Cup roster and traveled with the team to South Korea. One of the final selections by head coach John Hackworth, Urso wasn’t sure what his impact would be, and after the first two games, whether he’d even get on the field.

Going into their final Group E match, the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team had its back against the wall after losing to Tajikistan and Tunisia. The U.S. had to win their final group match against Belgium in order to advance.

After a scoreless first half against Belgium in which the U.S. dominated play, Hackworth called Urso’s number. The Lombard, Ill., native came on to start the second half, knowing that the team needed to score at least a goal to move on.

“I tried not to think about it too much,” said the 17-year-old Urso. “I tried to just stay focused on what I needed to do and I said to myself ‘this is it. There are no other games if we don’t win this one.’”

Less than 20 minutes into his World Cup debut, Urso buried the game-winner in the eventual 2-0 victory against Belgium. “After I scored, obviously my celebration wasn’t too planned out. I just ran back,” said Urso, laughing. “But having all your teammates surround you and cheering with you, it was just a great feeling.”

“Getting through was the most important part – if I would have had 10 goals and we didn’t get through, it wouldn’t have mattered at all. We’re all here with one goal as a team and I was just happy to help our cause.”

Urso’s parents made the journey all the way from Lombard, following the team first to Changwon and then Cheonan to support their son, and may have had an impact on Sunday’s game.

On Sunday afternoon before the game, the group of parents who made the journey (about 15 players currently have family members in South Korea), went sightseeing and visited a nearby Buddhist Temple. At the temple, some people choose to write notes of prayer on a tablet to place against a stone wall. Most of the U.S. parents wished for strength and success for the team, but the Urso family wished for Kirk’s maternal grandmother, who had passed away, to be able to watch the game.

“Before my grandmother passed away, she’d had a stroke and when we were taking care of her she said she would come back as a bird,” said Urso. “Late in the first half the big screen focused on a bird that had been on the field.”

The bird had flown into the Belgian penalty area, and when chased away, it merely moved over to the sideline by the U.S. bench before finally being shooed away by the referee’s assistant.

“My mom brought that up,” he said. “I didn’t really think about it too much until then. Obviously, having those thoughts made the whole experience even better.”

Now, heading into their Round of 16 match against Germany, Urso and his teammates are ready to play their best soccer.

“I’ve noticed that our team is really focused, and everything we’re doing to prepare is sharp,” said the midfielder. “Obviously, we’ve gone over film like we’ve done in the past, and we’ve played Germany before. We kind of know their tendencies but mostly we need to focus on getting our bodies and minds in the right place and ready for this game.”