Open Cup: San Jose's Cordell Cato redeems fans two years after knocking Earthquakes out at Kezar

SAN FRANCISCO – It’s been almost two years, but San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Khari Stephenson can still recall all the details of Cordell Cato’s first US Open Cup goal at Kezar Stadium.

“He beat us two years ago,” Stephenson said. “1-0. Scored a near-post goal against David Bingham. Slipped it through his legs. I remember it like it was yesterday.”

Maybe now, after scoring the game-winning goal for San Jose in a 2-1 fourth-round USOC victory against the Sacramento Republic, Cato will stop getting grief from teammates and supporters about the way the young winger – then a member of the Seattle Sounders – knocked the Quakes out of the 2012 edition of this tournament.

“I’ve had a couple of fans reminding me of that game,” Cato said. “So it’s definitely nice to score for the Earthquakes tonight. ... We kept pressing, we kept pushing, we kept talking on the field, which was very important, letting each other know that we’ve got to win. We’re going to score. And it happened.”

It was a sweet release for the Quakes, who struggled in the first half against the relentless high pressure from Sacramento, San Jose’s co-affiliate club in third-tier USL PRO.

“We knew they were going to play like that, and we knew we had to exploit those situations,” Quakes coach Mark Watson said. “You have to take chances on the counterattack. ... You have to be able to play out of pressure, and you have to be able to exploit the space in behind.”

An argument could be made that San Jose were lucky to have found an equalizer to Justin Braun’s 42nd-minute opener so quickly when Stephenson fired home from the penalty spot in first-half stoppage time.

“It’s a cup game, and cup games are always tough,” Stephenson said. “You never know how it’s going to go. We all come out here, we never want to lose. ... A lot of times, when teams give up a goal, they end up losing motivation and sulking, but we came out, we got the goal, and we were flying since then.”

In similar fashion, Cato was able to keep his head up even after Sacramento goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek turned aside his drive from 16 yards with a beautiful kick save in the 68th minute.

Just five minutes later, Cato picked up a deflected ball and spotted Jakubek trapped in no-man’s land, having come too far off his line. The Trinidad & Tobago native slipped the ball between Jakubek’s legs for the eventual game-winner.

“He kept going,” said an appreciative Watson. “He was someone that was going to be important for us tonight, because he has the pace, and in open space he can get past people. ... He just kept plugging away and kept working and got better and better. I thought he was really dangerous in the second half, and he got rewarded for his efforts.”