Making his case? San Jose Earthquakes winger Cordell Cato aims for CCL playing time after friendly win

Cordell Cato

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San Jose Earthquakes

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Cordell Cato hasn’t had many first touches with the San Jose Earthquakes’ first team this season, so he made sure not to waste one Saturday night against Norwich City.

Rushing to intercept a soft back pass from the Canaries’ Russell Martin in the seventh minute, Cato needed a single right-footed stroke to redirect the ball past stranded goalkeeper Mark Bunn. It would prove to be the only score in San Jose’s 1-0 victory against Norwich City, who finished 11th in the 2012-13 Barclays Premier League table.

“I didn’t want to [wait],” Cato told MLSsoccer.com. “I saw an opportunity to put it in the back of the net with my first touch and I took it.”

The Quakes’ goal-scoring play began with Mehdi Ballouchy glomming onto a Norwich City turnover in midfield and trying to release Walter Martinez down the right wing. Martin beat Martinez to the ball, but his attempt to reach Bunn was far too slow, opening the door for Cato, who was alertly following up from the center channel.

“The most encouraging thing was that the goal came from being in the right spot, defensively, and pressuring the ball,” Quakes interim coach Mark Watson told reporters. “It’s something we’ve been working a lot on. We knew that if we did it well, we’d get opportunities, and it was a great example. I’m sure the defender would like to have the pass back, literally, but it shows that Cordell was in the right spot and he was prepared to pressure the ball and do the running. He got a just reward.”

It was a goal similar in execution to Cato’s lone score in 160 minutes of MLS play this year. Against Chivas USA on April 27, Cato intersected with a cut-back cross from Shea Salinas in the 76th minute, using his left foot to tuck another one-timed shot neatly inside the near post.

 Despite that point-saving score against the Goats, Cato -- who just turned 21 this week -- has seen only four minutes of league play since May 4, becoming a forgotten man with the emergence of Martinez, the Honduran World Cup veteran, on the wings. The youngest Quake admitted it’s been difficult to keep the faith during the long stretches of inactivity.

“As a young player, it’s really tough, but you’ve just got to be a big man about it and just wait for an opportunity like today,” Cato said. “That one opportunity you get, you’ve just got to prepare yourself, be ready for it. And when you do get it, you’ve got to be able to take it.”

Cato’s work Saturday could make his case for earning more playing time once the Quakes enter CONCACAF Champions League play next month.

“Everyone’s playing for something” in a friendly, Watson said. “We’re playing for pride, we’re playing for our fans, to show that we can compete against a Premier League team. And every player is trying to show that they deserve more playing time or deserve to be in the starting 11 on Saturday.”