In a 2013 San Jose Earthquakes season that hasn’t featured as many successes as they’d like, the emergence of Cordell Cato stands out as one of the club’s best storylines.
Cato, the Quakes’ youngest player at 21 years old, has started each of the team's past five league matches, and the Trinidadian is expected to continue that streak as San Jose host Philadelphia on Sunday (11 pm ET, ESPN2).
In his second MLS season, the speedy winger has forced himself into the plans of interim coach Mark Watson, who admitted a couple of weeks ago, “at this point, it’d be very difficult to take him out of the team.”
For Cato – who trialed with the Quakes in 2011 but spent last year in Seattle as the Sounders claimed his MLS rights via a discovery tag – the ascension into Watson’s first-choice XI is not a surprise, even with San Jose’s other talents on the wing, including Marvin Chávez, Shea Salinas and recent addition Jaime Alas.
“I more or less expected it,” Cato told MLSsoccer.com of earning playing time. “It was a little tougher than I thought at first. ... All a player wants is time [on the field]. The hard work is paying off.”
The Quakes lived on their wing play last year, featuring most often the pairing of Chávez and Simon Dawkins, but have been up and down in that area during 2013. With Dawkins departing for his native England and Chávez’s production made more inconsistent by injuries and absences, Cato is the latest player trying to fill that role for San Jose. He tallied his first assist of the season on Alan Gordon’s opening goal in the Quakes’ 2-2 tie at Dallas on Aug. 24.
“I just think the most important thing right now is having confidence,” Cato said. “I believe that I can do anything on the field, take on any defense.”
While that one-on-one attacking ability is Cato’s biggest asset, Watson is most pleased with the defensive growth that Cato has shown since being acquired by San Jose this winter.
“He’s got a lot of pace and is good at running at guys, but even more satisfying for us is work rate and the things he’s doing defensively,” Watson told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s a tough thing for attacking players sometimes to really grasp the defensive side of the game, but it’s something that’s pretty important in the modern game. We ask everyone to do both.”
Cato’s development has a win-win aspect for the Quakes; his improvement could help San Jose make a late push into the 2013 postseason, and it sets himself up for an even better 2014.
“I think his ceiling is very high,” Watson said. “With his pace and his ability to go at players and go past players, I think he can keep improving and who knows. Every week, he’s proving that he deserves to stay in the team. For him, right now, that’s a big thing.”