Iro stands tall for Crew

Now in his third season, Columbus defender making his mark

OBETZ, Ohio — Even though Crew defender Andy Iro
will be staunchly rooting for his fellow Englishmen when they face the
United States in a World Cup match June 12, he now considers America
his primary residence.

“Funny enough, it’s turned into my first
home,” he said. “I’ve been gone [from England] for six years now and
only get home once a year. Most of the contacts I kept in England have
slowly faded away.”

He used soccer as a means to escape the
rough streets of Liverpool, first at the University of California, Santa
Barbara -- where he earned a sociology degree -- and now in his third
season in Columbus.

“The way my life was going, I knew I had to
leave Liverpool,” he said. “I was getting into a lot of trouble and
things weren’t going right. I knew that America was the only place to
offer me the opportunity to carry on me education as well as carry on
playing. It was a big decision at 19 -- just upping and leaving, stick
and bundle in hand, venturing across the world.”

He quickly
regretted leaving behind his parents, seven brothers and a sister as he
tried to adjust to a new culture and lifestyle. Eventually, however,
he grew thankful he had stayed.

“I was scared at first," Iro
said. The first year was terrible. I thought about going back on
numerous occasions, but after a year I never felt more free. Even
nowadays I like the feeling of independence. I’m making it my own way
with my own money. I wouldn’t have picked it any different.”

Iro
started 86 games in four seasons at UCSB, helping the Gauchos win the
2006 NCAA title while earning the nod as the Big West Defensive of the
Year each of his final three years on campus. Then it was abruptly off
to Columbus, after he was taken sixth overall by the Crew in the 2008
MLS SuperDraft.

“Coming from England to America is different,
but I found within America there are differences,” he said. “California
and Santa Barbara are so different from Columbus. It’s a different
group of people, different humor and a different way of life.”

He’s
still partial to the Golden State, even though he’s constantly on the
move. Iro spends most of his offseason in Southern California, but
often goes to San Francisco.

“Then I go back to England for two
weeks,” he said. “I also try to get two weeks of travel in. Two years
ago, I went to Morocco and Spain. This past year, it was France and
Belgium.”

The nomadic lifestyle is a metaphor for his time with
the Crew because Iro has never been able to settle into a starting
center-back spot. He made 11 starts among 18 regular-season appearances
as a rookie and came off the bench in three playoff games as the Crew
won the MLS Cup in 2008.

He was befallen by a left quadriceps
strain last season that cost him two months and limited him to 11 games
(eight starts).

In his absence, first-year defender Eric
Brunner or veteran Danny O’Rourke usually started in the middle
alongside MLS Defender of the Year Chad Marshall. The four are in the
mix again this season.

“It’s a competition,” coach Robert
Warzycha said. “He’s battling with Brunner, O’Rourke and Chad Marshall,
so it’s also based on their performances.”

Marshall has been
sidelined for nearly a month with a hamstring injury, but may return
Saturday at FC Dallas. Iro has done well replacing him in a CONCACAF
Champions League match against Toluca and in the MLS opener vs. Toronto
FC on March 27.

“The last game couple of games Iro was pretty
good,” Warzycha said. “He was good against Toluca and against Toronto,
but there’s room for improvement. He needs to be consistent. He needs
to be cleaner with the  ball. He has to play the ball quicker.”

Iro
knows the time is now to grab a first XI spot and hold onto it. And
more importantly, he needs to showcase himself so he can eventually
return to England to finish his career.

“I’ve got to go back,”
Iro said. “My mom is yet to see me in a soccer game, even college.
She’s ill so she can’t make it out. She can’t fly. Even through high
school she’s never seen me play. I also think I can be a good role
model, especially in the neighborhood that I grew up in, to go back and
they’d say, ‘Look, he did it.’ That would be really cool.”

As
for that World Cup match against the U.S. on “enemy” soil in Columbus,
Iro sees himself watching England top the Americans 3-1.

“I’ll
be sitting with my Gerrard jersey at the most patriotic bar, wherever
that is,” he said. “I’ll be thoroughly, thoroughly supporting England.
I’ll be loud and proud.”