Former Loyola men’s soccer midfielder Justin Sukow is forgoing his senior season to play soccer professionally with Reno 1868 FC, according to a Sept. 15 press release from Loyola Athletics.
Sukow, a sport management major, said he had professional soccer in the back of his mind since March due to the uncertainties caused by COVID-19. He said he decided to pursue a professional contract after the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) made the decision to postpone the fall sports season Aug. 14. He also said he plans to continue to take his online classes through Loyola and expects to graduate in December.
“I didn’t really want to think about [the season getting canceled],” Sukow, 21, said. “I wanted to play senior year really bad but then when it looked like the season was getting canceled, and then they made it official, I kind of had to make some tough decisions.”
Sukow said he was able to get a trial with Reno 1868 FC and had been there for about two weeks before officially signing. During the trial, Sukow participated in various drills and training with the team as the club evaluated his performance and personality, according to Reno 1868 FC assistant coach Chris Malenab. He said Sukow came in “fit, ready to play and hungry.”
“When he came in on trial … he really imposed himself, showed who he was, his personality, his characteristics both on and off the field,” Malenab said. “We really liked him as a whole. That’s one of the big things we look for here at Reno 1868 FC.”
Reno 1868 FC has been in the United Soccer League (USL) Championship since 2017. Sukow becomes the third former Rambler currently in the USL Championship, joining Grant Stoneman and Tucker Stephenson. This season, Reno 1868 FC is tied for first place in the USL Championship’s Group A. There are eight groups with four or five teams in each group. The top two teams from each group will make the playoffs which start in the beginning of October.
Sukow joins Reno 1868 FC with the USL Championship regular season nearing an end. The squad has five games remaining before the playoffs start. Malenab said it’s difficult for players to join a team late in the season, but he thinks Sukow is capable of making an impact whether it’s in training or if his number gets called during games.
“A player like Justin that comes in halfway, three-quarters of the way into the season has really gotta show themselves that their soccer IQ is there, physically they’re fit, they’re engaged and how quickly they can learn our system and understand our expectations,” Malenab said.
He also said he thinks Sukow brings positional versatility, with the ability to play in the central midfield as well as closer to the sidelines in the midfield.
Malenab declined to give any specifics about Sukow’s contract, saying it’s league policy to not release any information on players’ contracts.
During his lone season in Rogers Park, Sukow said he enjoyed his time and improved his game while at Loyola, despite the Ramblers not being in a premier soccer conference. Sukow started all 20 games for the Ramblers last season and his nine goals were the second-most on the team.
“I wouldn’t be where I am right now without my year at Loyola, that’s for sure,” Sukow said. “I improved there every day, got better, the coaches helped me out a ton. The competition in practice is really good. Loyola, even though we’re not in like a major conference, I think that we have a really strong soccer program.”
He said the team’s recent success adds to the strength of Loyola’s men’s soccer program. Sukow transferred to Loyola from the University of South Carolina before last season. Coming in, he said he had a personal goal to help the Ramblers reach the postseason.
Last season, Loyola defeated previously undefeated Missouri State University in the MVC Championship to advance to the NCAA Tournament where the Ramblers fell to the University of Kentucky in their opening game.
“It was everything I could’ve ever wanted in a season with Loyola,” Sukow said about his junior year. “I wanted to help the team get to the NCAA Tournament, so when we won the conference at home on that day, it was an amazing feeling just to be able to accomplish that.”
Loyola men’s soccer head coach Neil Jones praised Sukow’s impact last season in the press release from Loyola Athletics.
“We couldn’t be any prouder of Justin for signing with Reno 1868 FC,” Jones said in the release. “Though his time at Loyola was short, Justin made an immediate impact with our program and played a vital role in our success last season. Most importantly, Reno 1868 FC is getting an outstanding human being who fully deserves this tremendous opportunity. We wish him all the best and look forward to following his career.”
Jones wasn’t available for comment at the time of publication.
Despite taking the jump to professional soccer, Sukow said he’s still just taking it day-by-day and not thinking too far ahead about future goals.
“First, I’m just trying to get better every day in training, just take baby steps you know,” Sukow said. “Everyone wants to play, everyone wants to start, everyone wants to score goals, everyone wants to move up divisions, go to better teams, go to Europe, go play for big clubs, but I don’t want to look too far ahead. I just kind of want to take it day-by-day and just try to get better little by little.”