Since stepping into the San Jose Earthquakes’ starting lineup for the first time on Aug. 3 of last year, Cordell Cato has been a fixture in coach Mark Watson’s team sheets.
Until last week, that is.
Cato and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi were both dropped from Watson’s midfield during the club’s trip to Colorado as the coach tried to find a way to prevent his club from getting overwhelmed in the center of the pitch. The tactical shift helped the Quakes record their first shutout of 2014 in a 0-0 tie.
Cato came on in the 88th minute to replace hamstring-hampered Yannick Djalo, keeping his string of consecutive league appearances alive at 17 straight matches heading into San Jose’s game against Chivas USA on Saturday (10:30 pm ET; MLS Live). But it was the fewest minutes he’s played as a member of the Quakes and only his third time coming off the bench during that stretch.
“It’s a disappointment at first,” Cato told MLSsoccer.com this week. “Stuff happens like this where stuff wasn’t going well and a change is made. But I’ve just got to be prepared, not worry about where I play – as long as I play and make a difference. That’s what’s important.”
Watson preferred Atiba Harris to Cato on the right wing against the Rapids. That may not be an option against Chivas if Harris is pressed into duty as a target forward. Steven Lenhart (sprained knee ligament) and Adam Jahn (suspended) are unavailable and Alan Gordon, who came out of the Colorado match with a couple of knocks, might not suit up against Los Rojiblancos, as well.
Whatever the case this weekend, Watson thinks the 21-year-old Cato will come back stronger from the experience in the longer term.
“There are going to be moments when you have other players, good professionals, that are looking to play as well,” Watson told MLSsoccer.com. “There’s going to be moments when you’re not chosen. The key is just to stay focused and keep working hard, and when you do play, do well. It’s as simple as that. … He’s just got to stay focused and keep working and keep taking his chances when they come.”
Although Cato comes across as having the opposite demeanor from Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski – whose facial contortions and on-field communications leave no doubt as to the depths of his passion – the Trinidad & Tobago native is just as dedicated to his task of getting back into Watson’s side.
“You maybe don’t see it a lot, but as a player, yeah, I talk on the field,” Cato said. “Off the field, I’m as quiet as the most quiet person, but I still want to win, just as much as anybody else. I still get mad when we lose. It’s the same. It’s just not out there for everyone to see.”
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For Pierazzi, the benching illustrates what a tough transition – both to MLS and a new position – it has been thus far for the former captain of top-flight French side Ajaccio. After four games of playing alongside Sam Cronin in a 4-4-2, Pierazzi made way for rookie JJ Koval, the Quakes’ first-round pick in this year’s SuperDraft, who started in the center of a 4-1-4-1 setup with Cronin shielding the back four.
“With Jean, I just think he still needs some time to kind of get accustomed to everything,” Watson told MLSsoccer.com. “We know he’s a good player. We’ve seen him play many times, and we know he has quality, playing in midfield and making runs forward, which is something that we would want of him when he does play. We’ll keep working with him. He’s got a great work ethic. I think it’ll just take a little bit of time for him to feel comfortable.”