By Aaron Tomich/NPSL.com
A path to becoming a professional athlete in any sport can be a journey of ups and downs, constant movement and irregularities that no other job or workplace will likely ever experience. But, sometimes, that journey can be linear.
For former West Chester United Soccer Club goalkeeper AJ Marcucci, his path has been rather straightforward thus far.
The 22-year-old West Chester, Pennsylvania native, who stands at six feet three inches tall, was drafted by MLS’ New York Red Bulls in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft in April. He then signed a contract with New York Red Bulls II – the club’s USL Championship side.
Before being drafted, Marcucci played collegiately for three seasons at Connecticut College, where in the net, he made 54 appearances, recording 25 shutouts and only conceding 27 total goals. His goals against average (GAA) was an astonishing 0.50.
“It was a great team atmosphere at Connecticut College,” said Marcucci when asked about what he attributed his collegiate success to. “It started early with my back line, most of which were freshmen like myself, and we had a great connection that lasted through the years.”
During summertime, when preparing for the new season a few months out, Marcucci also attributed his success to his playing experience in NPSL with West Chester United SC under director and head coach Blaise Santengelo. The goalkeeper described it as a vital part to both his professional and physical growth as well as his personal growth.
“Blaise Santengelo does a wonderful job at getting players to play,” said Marcucci. “Every player knew what the summer was about. With Blaise, he wanted you to be the best you could be.”
Marcucci said that Santengelo’s coaching style gave himself and the other players a certain looseness and freedom, which in turn helped boost his confidence in the net game-by-game. He said that guys would have a winning attitude during training, a desire to play and learn and those elements translated into success.
“He [Marcucci] is the kind of young man that always came to the field to become great while having fun,” said Santengelo. “His shot stopping abilities were always superb. Where he really set himself apart was his skills with his feet and his game management.”
With West Chester United SC, there was a college-centric focus. That meant that Marcucci had players in the lines in front of him that were older and more experienced.
“A lot of guys were trying to push to the next level at West Chester,” said Marcucci. “That meant that I had to get bigger and better, which made them work even harder as well.”
As linear as his path to professional soccer has been, the transition is no easy task jumping from the college level to the bigger stage. The 22-year-old keeper has played nine games (all starts) for New York Red Bulls II in 2021, recording 25 saves so far.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I would be here [Red Bulls II],” said Marcucci. “But now that I am here, I go about it the same way as I did in college, where I try to get 1% better every day and just try to be the best person I could be first and foremost.”
Because Red Bulls II is a young squad in terms of the ages of his teammates, Marcucci wants to help out those younger than he in their professional development, using his own collegiate and NPSL experience to help guide them, “leading by example each and every day,” said Marcucci.
Looking back at his 2019 season with West Chester United SC in NPSL, Marcucci emphasized that his experience was one to cherish, and was a great step in his path to his professional pursuits. His former coach certainly agreed.
“AJ has been a huge part of our club and his success is our success,” said Santengelo. “We are so proud of him. As great as he is as a goalkeeper, he is even more a wonderful young man.”
Photo Credit: New York Red Bulls and Matt Ralph