Levi Maruca wasn’t even in the 18 when the day started on Tuesday, but by night’s end he was on the field for West Chester United putting the ball into the net to give his side a dramatic win deep into stoppage time.
The unlikely hero had been nursing an ankle injury so he was only available on a limited basis in his return but a ball played in from Kyle Tucker that Conor Bradley dummied near the penalty spot in the 99th minute put him in position to do just that.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do, come on and change the game,” Maruca said. “All I wanted to do was score a goal and I saw the ball come across the box, yelled at Conor to let the ball, he let it go and I took a couple touches and passed it into the net.”
Though the win didn’t officially clinch a playoff spot, West Chester United (9-1-2) is well on their way to a postseason berth in their inaugural season with a second win over their long-time rivals Philadelphia Lone Star (5-7-0).
Heading into the weekend, West Chester is eight points clear of second place Ocean City Nor’easters but Ocean City has played two fewer games. The top two teams in the Mid-Atlantic will make the postseason along with the best third place team between the Mid-Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions.
West Chester United had multiple chances to take the lead in the first half Tuesday night, but it was Lone Star that opened the scoring when a cross in the box was deflected right to the feet of Connor Manning, who ripped a shot into the left side of the net past the outstretched dive of Dane Jacomen.
West Chester continued to threaten, forcing goalkeeper Eoin Gawronski to come up with eight stops on the night to keep his team in it. Lone Star had some bright moments of their own on the counter but West Chester was able to level the score through a link-up from leading goal scorers Chris Donovan, who played a ball wide to Troy Amspacher in the box for a low curling finish. Amspacher had a chance for a second when he got free in the box again but Gawronski did well to cut down his angle and Amspacher put his shot wide of the post.
“We had 19 shots today,” head coach Blaise Santangelo said. “We just made it hard for ourselves. They got a really great goal and they were dangerous on the counter.”
Lone Star nearly took the lead late but Jacomen came up with a diving stop that paved the way for Maruca’s heroics. Lone Star was pushing forward for a winner when Tucker was able to win the ball and start the counter the other way, capping it with the pass to Maruca in the box.
“He wasn’t even on the 18 as of 3 o’clock this afternoon,” Santangelo said of Maruca, who replaced Amspacher, on a yellow card, with four minutes left in regulation. “I’d like to say it was a good coaching decision but he scored an unbelievable game-winner, passing it into the net just like we were trying to get our guys to do all night.”
West Chester closes out their first USL League Two regular season hosting Northern Virginia FC Monday night and traveling to Ocean City on Friday, July 9.