They began playing club soccer together in suburban Chicago when they were 9. Kirk Urso was more advanced, so David Meves first looked at Urso like an older brother and wanted to be like him.

In a sense, that never changed.

Meves lost his good friend Aug. 5 after Urso, a rookie midfielder with the Columbus Crew of MLS, collapsed inside a bar and was pronounced dead an hour later. But the University of Akron goalkeeper still strives to be like Captain Kirk.

No one knows what happened to Urso. According to audio posted on the Columbus Dispatch’s website, a female 911 caller referred to Urso as “a very drunk person who fell down and now is unconscious.” The Franklin County coroner’s report showed an enlarged heart, but Meves’ mother, Lois, who talks to Urso’s mother, Sandra, almost daily, said the Ursos were told that might not be unusual in an athlete. Lois Meves said toxicology reports could take two to three more weeks.

As he waits for answers, Meves vows that Urso’s tragic passing will drive him during his senior year with the Zips, one in which he faces a challenge from Fernando Pina, a highly recruited freshman.

“Ever since I was young and playing with him I’ve always looked up to him to play, to make me better,” Meves said of Urso last week after a UA practice. “Every time I go out on the field it’s going to be in my head.”

Urso’s death has already changed him, UA coach Caleb Porter believes. Porter gave Meves two days off to attend Urso’s wake and funeral Aug. 10-11, and when Meves returned, Porter saw something different in the laid-back Meves, whom he compared to a “hibernating bear.”

“It seemed like when he came back he had a little bit more hunger than I’ve ever seen him,” Porter said. “Maybe that shook him up to the point where he’s focused even more and really wants to honor Kirk with his final year.

“Things like that help to put things in perspective some times. I’ve seen him in a really good spot lately. You’d think he’d have a heavy heart, but this is his channel now.”

Lois Meves said her son does have a heavy heart. She said it was Meves’ first experience with the death of someone he knew. But she sees a change, too.

“One of the things he said to me was, ‘Kirk always worked harder than I did. Kirk always had a smile on his face and now he’s gone and I’m still here,’ ” Lois Meves said by phone Monday. “Somebody gave him a wristband that has Kirk’s name and number on it.

“I think he really feels like he wants to make Kirk proud and work as hard as Kirk and be the same type of person. In that way, I feel he has changed a little bit.”

•?•?•?•

Until the wee hours of a Sunday morning, Urso and Meves were 22-year-olds on top of the world.

A three-year starter at UA, Meves won a national title with the Zips in 2010 after reaching the championship game the previous season. Urso was the captain of North Carolina’s 2011 NCAA champion team and reached the College Cup, soccer’s version of the Final Four, four times.

They faced each other once in the NCAA Tournament, in Cary, N.C., in 2009 when Meves was a freshman and Urso a sophomore. The College Cup semifinal went to down to penalty kicks. Urso scored one goal, but UA prevailed 5-4.

“I was close, though; I was very close,” Meves said of Urso’s penalty shot.

“When you’re going you’re like, ‘This is cool. We grew up together and we’re doing this.’ But yet you really want to win.”

Lois Meves said that is one of the memories of her son and Urso she will never forget.

“There we sat, my husband and I, and we said, ‘How many times have we been watching practice and watching Dave against Kirk?’ ” Lois Meves said. “I wanted Dave to stop it, but I wanted Kirk to make it. Dave got his hand on it, but it still went in, but then Akron won the PKs so they moved on.

“We talk about that every now and then because it was unreal to see the two of them make it to the final four. They talked about how they both had won one, they thought that was great.”

Meves got his championship the next year in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he and Urso again talked and joked during the pre-tournament dinner. The Zips had opened the season at North Carolina, winning 3-0. In 2011, it was Urso’s turn as UNC defeated Charlotte 1-0 in the final. Ben Speas, Meves’ former UA teammate who had transferred to UNC, scored the lone goal.

Urso wasn’t selected in Major League Soccer’s SuperDraft, despite his college success. He went to the Crew in the supplemental draft, and he started five of Crew’s first six games before undergoing surgery for a sports hernia.

“Early on people would say Kirk’s not fast enough or he’s not strong enough. But he always overcame those kind of labels that were put on him,” Dave Richardson, who coached Urso and Meves at Sockers FC in Palatine, Ill., said by phone. “Even when he didn’t come out of the top draft, he got in as a supplemental pick and busted his butt and fought his way on to the team. Some kids who were awesome college players drafted in the first four or five positions maybe hadn’t played as well as him. People weren’t aware of him, but they saw the special qualities he had.”

Meves saw those qualities by the time he and Urso became teenagers. The two became closer when they spent a year together attending the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., during Meves’ junior year in high school.

A member of the national team pool, Urso had been invited to IMG the year before. When Meves got his chance, his parents weren’t so sure they liked the idea of a 16-year-old living on his own.

“Part of the reason we let him go was we knew Kirk was down there and we trusted Kirk and his judgment,” Lois Meves said. “We knew Dave would be hanging out with him. I know they went to church together.”

Although they weren’t roommates, Meves said, “Our rooms were probably 100 feet away from each other right down the hall.”

•?•?•?•

Urso’s teammates from Sockers FC might not have known how to grieve, much less deal with the regret that piled on top like one of their old victory scrums.

“Dave said to me, ‘I told myself I needed to call Kirk and I didn’t do it. I waited. Now he’s gone,’ ” Lois Meves said. “There’s a lot of emotions Dave’s going through right now.”

Meves spent his summer in Chicago, and Urso was in Columbus, so they never got together and talked, except perhaps through social media, his mother said. After high school, they played one summer with the Chicago Fire Player Development League team and drove together to games.

“It was a lot harder once we went off to college, we didn’t keep in touch quite as much, but we still talked once in a while,” Meves said. “I was always supporting him even if I didn’t tell him, catching games and rooting for him to do well.”

When Urso’s friends came to pay their respects, they spent time catching up.

“Kirk was always the captain of the team, always the leader,” Lois Meves said. “I’m sure they all looked up to him. One boy got up and talked [at the funeral] and said, ‘We all wanted to be like Kirk.’

“For him to pass, I think it struck all of them that they need to stay more connected, don’t let time pass without seeing each other.”

Richardson said Meves wasn’t the only one who might have been changed by Urso’s death.

“Typically when you’re around 22, 23, you have a tendency to take things for granted,” Richardson said. “The tragedy that happened with Kirk for a lot of these guys, it showed them that life is precious. To have talent and participate in a sport, you never know when that opportunity may come or when it may go. I saw it with a lot of the guys, not just David.”

For Meves, that point hit home in the two days spent in Illinois.

“It makes you look at life a little different,” Meves said. “Some days before it was kind of a grind; it’s a lot of hard work to train. You get back and you realize each day’s a blessing to be able to play what you love. It’s definitely helped me, I think.”

About two weeks before Urso died, Sockers FC played in Columbus and Urso attended their game in a driving rainstorm. But such loyalty and Urso’s work ethic weren’t the only traits Meves admired in his friend.

“I think it was his character,” Meves said. “He was always trying to make people better and help them along the way. He had a great heart, just really felt for people. When things were hard for them, he was there.”

That will still be the case. When Meves is struggling through a difficult practice or feeling the pressure in the waning moments of a tight Zips game, Captain Kirk might again carry him through.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.