Crew come together ahead of emotional return to field

OBETZ, Ohio – Columbus Crew midfielder Chris Birchall was asked Monday if he still harbored resentment toward his former club, the LA Galaxy, for not inviting him to the White House ceremony May 15 to honor the MLS Cup 2011 champions.

“I completely forgot about that until you said it,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “No, it’s done now. I’m not the type to hold grudges.”

Birchall, who signed with the Crew on May 8, could be excused for having other things on his mind in the days leading to Wednesday’s match against the Galaxy in Crew Stadium (7 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) – namely the sudden passing of 22-year-old Crew rookie midfielder Kirk Urso on Aug. 5 that rocked the organization followed by the mourning period and subsequent postponement of last Saturday’s game against Toronto FC so the team could attend the funeral in Illinois.

It's hard to gauge how Columbus (8-8-4) will respond against the Galaxy (11-11-3), this being the first time an active player has passed away in the league's 17-year history.

“I have no idea,” Crew defender Josh Williams said after Tuesday’s practice. “A lot of guys are taking it different ways. I do know everyone will band together.”

That has been a recurring theme that past 10 days as the players cope with the loss of a friend.

“It’s going to be an emotional game,” head coach Robert Warzycha said. “I am sure the guys are going to play extremely, extremely hard.”

They’ll have to get through the pregame first. The Crew have several activities, including a video tribute, planned in memory of Urso. There was sentiment among some players that it would be better to stay in the locker room during the video because of the emotional impact.

“At first there were a lot of guys shaky on it but we all came together and decided we want to be out there and watch it,” Williams said. “We thought it was only right to be on the field and honor him that way.”

He added that the team was given an advance screening of the video, “Watching it, you get goose bumps,” Williams said.

While many players have said the best way to honor Urso is to win MLS Cup, the reality is the Crew are in a dogfight to make the playoffs. They are eight points behind D.C. United for the final spot in the Eastern Conference although they have played two fewer matches.

“Not that we’re ever going to totally move on from what happened with Kirk,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said, "but hopefully we get a little bit of closure from the funeral and move on to the rest of the season starting Wednesday."