Rising Iro

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

After nearly 40 minutes of sustained attack Saturday, the Columbus Crew finally burst New England's dam with a goal by Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Within minutes, rookie defender Andy Iro came charging through the floodgates to head home his first professional goal and a 2-0 halftime lead en route to a decisive 4-0 victory.

As his club played its best match of the season - perhaps its best match ever - the six-foot-five Englishman delivered his best individual showing. Besides scoring, he helped to keep star striker Taylor Twellman and the potent New England attack off the board.

The Crew's top draft pick after starring at UC Santa Barbara, Iro started the season a bit shaky but has adjusted well to the faster, smarter, more technical pro game. At Coach Sigi Schmid's urging, the defender has become more consistently alert and learned to distribute the ball quickly and accurately. He is supplementing his formidable size and strength by sharpening his intellect and finesse, which sometimes means participating in ball-handling drills most defenders sit out.

"The more I can get comfortable on the ball, the better I'll be," Iro said. "I want to be good at everything."

The improvements have landed him a starting spot teamed with Chad Marshall in central defense. But they're nothing compared to the way Iro cleaned up his act off the field.

"I was going through a stage where things weren't going too well in England," Iro said of his days growing up in Liverpool as one of nine children. "I was getting into trouble. I wasn't doing the right things. My soccer career had come to a halt. My education had come to a halt. Basically I was just becoming lazy."

His friend tipped him off to the concept of an athletic scholarship, and after researching the top collegiate programs, Iro e-mailed about 300 of them. He got three responses.

One of the interested parties was Coach Tim Vom Steeg at UC Santa Barbara. Iro had never heard of the place, but minutes after landing in Los Angeles, a trip up the California coastline convinced him to give the college a try.

"I definitely stumbled onto a good thing," he said.

Iro loved West Coast living, but he's staying entertained in Columbus too. While most Crew players reside in the suburbs, Iro has a place on High Street near the Short North, where he walks his miniature schnauzer, Achilles, and frequents nightspots like Bodega.

And, of course, there's that matter of rapidly becoming a rock of the best team in MLS.

"I think Saturday was my best game, but I still think I can improve," Iro said. "And I think that can be a regular, consistent performance."

What's next for the Crew?

After dominating its closest challenger last week, Columbus looks to extend its four-game winning streak and expand its cushion atop Major League Soccer when it visits Toronto Saturday. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. on ONN.