UPDATE: This game will be replayed on Friday, April 1 at 7 p.m. at Montclair State after a ruling from U.S. Soccer on a protest from FC Motown over an illegal substitution
Needing a spark to get back into a game they were trailing 2-0 at halftime, West Chester United turned to a player who has been known for stepping up in big moments.
With his head coach yelling “hit it” from the sideline, Levi Maruca stepped into a ball from the left flank and fired a strike into the top right-hand corner of the net in the 56th minute of a U.S. Open Cup first round game on Tuesday night at Montclair State University.
“I just remember taking a couple touches and just hitting the ball,” Maruca said. “Not much else.”
After the match, Maruca watched the replay on the goal on his dad’s phone with his family in the stands and his reaction pretty much says it all.
Maruca has been one of the regulars on a West Chester United squad that has waited through two postponed Open Cup tournaments to finally get back after missing the competition in 2019.
He was a senior in high school in the stands when West Chester United hosted the Harrisburg City Islanders in front of a packed home crowd in 2016. The 3-2 extra time win at the home of the New York Red Bulls II on Tuesday night sets up another home game against a pro team with NISA club AC Syracuse Pulse slated to come to West Chester on April 6 at 7 p.m.
“I just remember that feeling of thinking that one day I could be out there playing against a pro team and now it’s happening,” Maruca said, recalling the game West Chester United hosted in 2016.
A big reason for that is Maruca’s play at left back pushing into the attack. He set up the equalizer with a ball to the back post that Blaise Milanek put his body on the line to get to the floated ball and head it in to tie the game up in the 78th minute.
“We always tell Levi, be dangerous,” head coach Blaise Santangelo said. “He’s a skilled dribbler and should really be playing higher up the field but he’s a great defender too.”
West Chester took the lead for good in the 94th minute when three substitutes linked up to produce the game-winner. Derek Ramirez played Carter Burris into the box with a lovely through-ball and Burris squared it to Jake Gosselin for the finish first time.
“These guys have been helping us in all these run-up games,” Santangelo said. “I told the guys, get over the skis and start turning the ball up field.”
The finish after two extra time periods wasn’t without controversy as Joseph Fala, who scored in first half stoppage time to make it 2-0 after Nerlin Saint-Vil gave the hosts the lead in the 10th minute, thought he had an equalizer only to be whistled for offside on a call that could’ve gone either way.
The game also included some confusion over a substitution after Milanek’s goal when he was being evaluated on the sideline for a concussion. The fourth official allowed a temporary sub for Milanek, which isn’t permitted in the rulebook. Milanek then re-entered and was subbed out for good during extra time.