Conn's Marcucci grateful for chance to play in MLS with New York Red Bulls
Hanging out upstairs at his family's home in West Chester, Pa., during the recent 2021 Major League Soccer SuperDraft, AJ Marcucci kept refreshing his phone while anxiously waiting to learn his fate.
Marcucci watched the first round with his parents in the living room before all three split up to different rooms to follow the second and third rounds.
As an All-American goalie at Connecticut College, Marcucci played in countless big games in the New England Small College Athletic Conference and anchored the Camels during some impressive postseason runs.
Nothing could prepare him for that day.
"As we kept watching, I was getting more anxious to see my name," Marcucci said. "When I saw it, it was a sigh of relief and then just excited. .... My Dad saw it first before we did and he screamed from his office. Then we all just came downstairs and had like one big family hug.
"Then all of our phones got blasted with people saying congratulations and everything."
Being selected in the third round (67th overall) by the New York Red Bulls on Jan. 21 is another big step in Marcucci's career. He's the first Division III player since 2016 to go in the draft.
Marcucci's ultimate goal is to play Major League Soccer, not just get drafted.
"It's definitely exciting to be in the place I am right now," Marcucci said. "If you would have told me this three or four years ago, I would have been like, 'No way.' It's great to have an opportunity to show myself at the next level. I'm grateful for the opportunity that New York has given me and I can't wait to take it head on."
Hard work, dedication and determination put Marcucci in this position.
Marcucci diligently prepared on the field and in the classroom so when his draft opportunity arrived, he'd be ready. He set out and achieved his goal of graduating from Conn in just three and a half years, earning a degree in mathematics with a concentration in statistics and a minor in economics.
With Marcucci in goal, the Camels went to three straight NCAA tournaments for the first time in program history, reaching the quarterfinals in 2019. He racked up numerous individual honors, including being named the nation's top Division III goalie in 2018 and 2019. He finished his career with a school-record 25 shutouts and an 0.50 goals against average.
The pandemic forced cancellation of the fall sports season and prematurely ended Marcucci's collegiate career. He completed his final semester remotely from home.
"It was definitely difficult," Marcucci said of losing his senior season. "Liam Donelan and I, the senior captains, were really, really upset. ... We really thought with the people coming back that we were going to have a shot at making the Final Four, if not getting to the national championship."
Marcucci's soccer story began on the youth level in Pennsylvania. He didn't start out as a goalie. As a 12-year-old, he played right back before his team's goalie quit, leading to him stepping in between the posts.
"We didn't have anyone in goal," Marcucci said. "I didn't love entirely using my feet. I wanted to use my hands. Because of the other sports that I played, baseball and basketball, it just made it simpler to play in goal.
"From then on, I loved playing goalkeeper."
In high school, Marcucci eventually dropped other sports and made a full commitment to soccer. He gradually blossomed into an elite level keeper.
Early on in his college career, his hometown coaches and soccer friends, including Matt Freese who plays goalie for the MLS's Philadelphia Union, instilled in him a belief that he had professional potential.
"I trained with Matt and he was telling me that I could do it," Marcucci said. "I really worked hard. To be honest with you, I didn't want to stop playing because I saw for my (freshman) year that it hurt our three senior captions that they weren't going to play competitive soccer anymore. I really didn't want that to be me. That kind of pushed me as well."
Marcucci's draft stock improved after making a good impression at a pre-draft combine in Kansas City in November.
"I got a lot of good looks from it, and that really helped," Marcucci said.
To prepare for the challenges ahead, Marcucci is playing with his hometown amateur club team, West Chester United. He's also making the roughly 45-minute drive to Delaware about three times a week to work out with other professional goalies and train with the Philadelphia Union goalkeeper coach.
"I'm learning a lot of stuff from them," Marcucci said. "They're basically showing me the ropes right now and I'm really thankful for it. ... It's definitely given me more confidence in my ability training with these guys."
Marcucci is scheduled to begin preseason camp with the Red Bulls on Feb. 22. He's still waiting to receive details.
"To get a contract is really the biggest goal," Marcucci said. "I'm going to always be prepared and ready to go. My goal is, if not to make the MSL team, then to make the second team and get games and time there and show myself. Then hopefully in a few years or so, I'll hopefully have a shot at the No. 1 (job) in New York."
A few days after being drafted, it finally hit Marcucci that he is getting a chance to live out a dream.
"I'm going to play professional soccer, which is crazy to me," he said.
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