Cordell Cato vs FC Dallas

Midfielder Cordell Cato doesn’t always start for the Earthquakes, but when he does take the field, look out!

He can finish.

In fact, Cato, a 21-year-old Trinidadian flash, scored the winner in a 2-1 victory over Sacramento Republic FC at Kezar Stadium in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. The clutch goal showed off much of what Cato brings to the table: speed, determination, composure and a flare for the dramatic.

He collected a ball sent in from the left, caught the goalkeeper too far off his line and found the net.

“He worked hard and was dangerous, and he got a big goal for us,” coach Mark Watson said. “He got better and better as the night went on.”

Watson sees plenty of promise in Cato, for sure.

“He’s doesn’t get over-awed by the big stage,” Watson said. “He’s still a very young guy. He’s probably played 20 games in the league. He’s got a really bright future. … There’s a lot more in him, too. If he keeps his work rate up and stays focused on the game, he’s going to have a really bright future.”

After losing his starting spot before a 0-0 draw with the Colorado Rapids on April 13, Cato expressed disappointment and vowed to stay prepared. The game at Kezar Stadium served as more evidence of that mindset.

“It’s just a matter of him waiting for his time and doing well, and he’s done that this year,” Watson said. “We’ve added Atiba (Harris). We’ve added Yannick (Djalo), who has played wing. If he stays focused and keeps working hard, his chances will come.”

It didn’t take long for Cato to have an impact this season. In a 1-1 home draw with Mexican power Deportivo Toluca FC on March 11 at Buck Shaw Stadium, Cato thrived in space out wide. His majestic cross in the 55th minute found Chris Wondolowski, but Wondo’s one-time blast was stopped.

He started and scored in a memorable 2-1 win over FC Dallas on May 10 – his first goal of the MLS season. The game was notable because the Quakes played a man down the entire second half. Also notable about Cato’s goal was the fact that Clarence Goodson, who flicked the ball ahead to Cato, earned his first assist with the Earthquakes, and Jon Busch, who’d passed to Goodson, earned the first assist of his 14-year MLS career.Versatility helps Cato see more time on the field. Cato played in the back in a 3-3 draw against Real Salt Lake in the 2014 MLS opener; he also logged a yeoman-like 120 minutes at Toluca at nearly 9,000 feet elevation on March 19.

Cato was acquired in a March 2013 trade with Seattle for a 2014 draft pick. He had one goal and two assists in 20 appearances last season, after making his Quakes’ debut against Real Salt Lake on March 3.

In the U.S. Open Cup, Cato knew what to expect from Sacramento Republic FC, the Earthquakes’ formidable affiliate. He was up to the challenge.

“We played them in preseason and we know that they were a hard-working team that could cause problems for us. … Full credit to them for a well-played game,” he said.

Quiet off the field, Cato is not lacking in strong opinions. Watson finds his candor refreshing. After the Toluca coach was dismissive of the Earthquakes’ more physical style of play at Buck Shaw Stadium, Cato shot back, saying “it doesn’t matter what he says. … We play and we get results, and that’s all the matters.”

Cato, who has made eight starts and 12 appearances this season, discussed his mindset recently to

“Off the field, I’m as quiet as the most-quiet person, but I still want to win, just as much as anybody else,” he said. “I still get mad when we lose. It’s the same. It’s just not out there for everyone to see.”

Cato showed promise playing for Trinidad & Tobago in the 2011 CONCACAF under-20 championships. After his time in Seattle, he has 10 starts among 20 appearances with the Quakes in 2013.

Now, he’s poised for his next opportunity, like a dragster waiting for the light to turn green.