Josh Suggs brought one overriding thought with him in January when he arrived as a training-camp trialist for the San Jose Earthquakes.
“I looked at it like, ‘I’m going to outwork everybody, or I’m going to try to,’” Suggs told MLSsoccer.com.
Suggs’ work has brought the 22-year-old to the brink of a new professional high point: an MLS paycheck.
Suggs came to San Jose as an unheralded outside back with raw speed and not much experience — four years at Humboldt State and one year with the Los Angeles Blues of third-division USL Pro. Since then, he has outlasted all three defenders the Quakes selected in the Supplemental Draft: UC Santa Barbara’s James Kiffie, Loyola Marymount’s Tyler Krumpe and Ohio State’s David Tiemstra.
“I’m enjoying my time here,” Suggs said. “It’s a great experience. I never thought I’d be here.”
Suggs hooked up with the Quakes via Josh Tudela, a midfielder who played for current San Jose coach Frank Yallop on the LA Galaxy in 2007, and with Suggs on the Blues last year. Tudela put in a good word for Suggs, who had a week-long trial with the Quakes last September and did enough to earn an invite back for training camp.
Suggs is one of five non-contract players with the Quakes on their stint in Portland this week. Midfielder Jacob Husted, a second-round pick in this year’s SuperDraft, is still coming back from a broken foot. Midfielder Rodrigo Lopez (formerly of the Portland Timbers), goalkeeper Evan Newton (ex-Houston Dynamo) and defender Jed Zayner (late of D.C. United and Columbus) are also currently training with San Jose.
Plenty of those players could see time Thursday when the Quakes face AIK in a preseason match, the second of their three contests in Portland (8 pm ET, streamed live on SJEarthquakes.com). Yallop said last week the team would be concentrating its first-teamers in the first and third matches.
Zayner might be the biggest competition for Suggs as both position themselves to take advantage of a potential job opening behind starting right back Steven Beitashour. Veteran Tim Ward would be the natural fit there, but he’s been sidelined for the entirety of training camp with a right hamstring problem that dates back more than a year.
That could mean big things for Suggs, who graduated from Humboldt last year with a degree in criminal justice and dreams of working in law enforcement if soccer doesn’t work out.
The Quakes are looking at Suggs as a potential long-term project, but one with considerable potential upside.
“He’s very pacy,” Yallop said. “Very quick, very direct. He’s a young kid, he’s got to learn a lot, but I like what I’ve seen. He may be similar to Justin Morrow two years ago. .... He’s got a ways to go, but he’s got some good traits.”
Given the strides that Morrow has made in two years — going from a raw rookie to a twice-loaned player to an effective starter at left back by the end of last season — that’s a career track Suggs would love to emulate.
“I’ve been blessed with athleticism, and I know that I’m raw right now,” Suggs said. “I still get nerves, my touch is sometimes off. It’s inconsistent. I look at Justin, and he’s really consistent. He’s a good pro. I would happy to follow in his footsteps.”
In the meantime, Suggs will keep grinding away.
“To be honest, I don’t really think about it much,” Suggs said of the roster math. “When we first got here, there was 40-some guys, a ton of trialists. Hopefully they’ll see my work ethic and see my potential. I’m not finished yet. I know that I have a long way to go. I haven’t stopped and said, ‘OK, I’ve almost made it. I can relax.’ It’s not like that. Until I sign a contract, I’m not going to be happy.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org