For a professional athlete, being able to play for one’s hometown team is a dream come true. Danny O’Rourke, the versatile defender and midfielder for the Columbus Crew, has been able to live that dream since 2007.
Growing up in Worthington and attending Worthington Kilbourne High School, O’Rourke has been around Columbus soccer since he was young and is among the recent generation of Major League Soccer players who were fans of the league, which began operation in 1996, before they played in it.
“I started going to games when they played at the Horseshoe,” O’Rourke said. “Whenever I was in town and they had a game, I would definitely try and go.”
Not only was O’Rourke watching the Crew, but he also had the opportunity to practice with the team.
“I got to come out and train with [the team] senior year of high school and throughout college,” he said.
After graduating from Kilbourne as the team captain and a state champion, O’Rourke went to college at Indiana University, where he was again captain and led the team to a 69-15-9 record through his four years, winning the NCAA National Championship in 2003 and 2004. He was awarded the 2004 MAC Hermann Trophy award, college soccer’s equivalent to the Heisman trophy.
O’Rourke was a highly sought-after player in the 2005 MLS Superdraft, and was taken fourth overall by the San Jose Earthquakes.
The Crew “was where I wanted to go, but I also knew they didn’t have any picks in the first round, so I was realistic with it,” O’Rourke said. “I definitely wanted to come here, but I knew eventually I would try and come back here, and it worked out for the best.”
Two years later, O’Rourke and current Columbus goalkeeper William Hesmer were traded to the Crew from Toronto F.C.
O’Rourke had come back home.
His first season with the Crew was not one to remember, as the Crew finished 9-11-10 and missed the playoffs for the third-straight year.
The following season, O’Rourke was moved by then Crew coach Sigi Schmid from his defensive midfield position, the position O’Rourke played in high school and throughout college, to central defender.
“I think Sigi … saw that [central defender] was the position for me, so that’s where I’m playing,” O’Rourke said. “I will play wherever they need me to.”
Throughout the 2008 season, O’Rourke, along with fellow center defender Chad Marshall, helped to form one of the league’s top defensive units. The team went on to finish with the best record in MLS and won its first ever MLS Cup. O’Rourke was named the team Humanitarian of the Year.
“That was a great experience,” he said. “To see a team come together in a year and have the coaches put the pieces in place … it was great.”
The next season O’Rourke played a mixture of central defender, wide fullback and defensive midfielder, whatever new coach Robert Warzycha needed from him. The team again finished with the best record in the league but was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round to eventual champions Real Salt Lake. O’Rourke continued to excel and show his diversity, earning the team MVP award at the conclusion of the season.
With the Crew expected to be one of the top teams in MLS again this season, it appears O’Rourke is living the dream: playing as a championship contender and doing so in his hometown of Columbus.
O’Rourke said, “Playing for the team you grew up supporting is a dream come true.”