Stephen McCarthy with #15

A teammate to have his back

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – The jersey hanging in Stephen McCarthy’s locker is now a constant reminder.

I’m not just playing for myself anymore. I’m playing for Kirk, too.

McCarthy, who wore No. 26 during his first two seasons with the New England Revolution, now honors his late friend and former college teammate Kirk Urso by donning No. 15, the number worn by Urso during his time with the Columbus Crew. Urso passed away tragically last August at the age of 22, just six months into his professional soccer career.

“It’s something that helps me remember him every day when I put the jersey on,” said McCarthy, who spent two years (2009-10) playing alongside Urso at the University of North Carolina. “Sometimes when people are gone you might not think about them for a few days, so I think it’s good to have him on my practice jersey and my game jersey so I’m thinking about him every day, trying to play for him, with him on my side.”

Urso was the type of player – and person – you always wanted on your side, according to McCarthy. Relentlessly intense as an athlete and fiercely loyal as a friend, Urso made a profound impact on all those he encountered, including the soft-spoken transfer student from Santa Clara University who now honors his memory through the number 15.

McCarthy vividly recalls meeting Urso during a pickup game shortly after transferring to UNC and forming an immediate first impression: “The first time I met him, I really didn’t like him at all,” McCarthy admitted with a laugh. “We were just playing around and he came in just flying, just so intense, and I was like, ‘Man, what is wrong with this guy?’”

But that first impression was deceiving. Soon McCarthy couldn’t help but appreciate Urso’s unending dedication to success on the field and steadfast devotion to his friends off it. That was just Kirk. Full go, all the time.

“It turned out after a while that’s just how he was on the field, and he was such a nice guy off the field that you just came to love that about him,” said McCarthy, who continued to keep in touch with Urso when they both made the leap to MLS. “He was always intense – everything he did on the field – and it spread.”

McCarthy aims to replicate that intensity every time he steps on the field, in part to honor the lessons he learned from his friend. And with No. 15 on his back, McCarthy knows he’s playing for more than just himself, more than just his team.

He’s playing for Kirk.

“I’m playing for two people; I’m trying to be two people now and carry him with me,” McCarthy said. “He’s going to help me. I know that for sure.”