SAN JOSE, Calif. -- In terms of the San Jose Earthquakes’ depth chart, the cards are stacked against Cordell Cato.
Bolstering the wings was an area of offseason concentration for the Quakes, who not only brought in Leandro Barrera and Sanna Nyassi but have also moved Designated Player Innocent Emeghara out wide in an attempt to maximize their talent on the field.
So, like any good winger, Cato has ran right past his obstacles.
If right back Marvell Wynne, who left the Quakes’ 2-1 loss to New England last weekend after 55 minutes due to a strained right hamstring, is unable to come back Sunday against Real Salt Lake (5 pm ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes), Cato is in line to earn his first start of the season.
The 22-year-old Trinidadian youth international said he’s ready to step in for a full 90 minutes in place of Wynne, whom he replaced during the loss to the Revs. Wynne was limited during training Friday to running laps, rather than partaking in any more substantive drills or scrimmaging.
“Yeah, I’m ready” to play right back, Cato told reporters earlier this week. “I kind of have to be.”
That’s true; the Quakes cut loose Pablo Pintos during the offseason and parted ways by “mutual agreement” with Brandon Barklage last month, thinning their ranks at right back.
Of course, Cato’s ability to cover the position in a pinch might have helped lead the Quakes to make those moves in the first place.
“I still see Cordell primarily at outside right midfield, but knowing that he can play right back, it is a comfort,” Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear said. “And I think when he went back there [against New England], you saw that he can handle the situation well. I know he played there last year a couple times, and I saw those games, so I know he can do that. When Marvell went down it was, ‘OK, Cordell. You’re playing right back.’ And we didn’t think twice about it.”
Cato said that getting some minutes at right back last week would help him if he starts there against RSL. He played some right back in emergencies for previous San Jose coach Mark Watson, but found that Kinnear wants to see more, offensively, from his players in that spot.
“[Attacking] is definitely more encouraged,” Cato said. “He wants you to do your job defensively first, but he also wants you to get in attack as much as possible ... Any opportunity I get to attack, I definitely will.”
The key for Sunday is to balance when to make an overlapping run and when to hang back and allow Nyassi to get forward into that space. The interplay of Nyassi and Wynne has often been one of San Jose’s bright spots so far this season, technically speaking.
“Like I say, it’s little partnerships around the field, and that would be an important partnership for us,” Kinnear said of a Cato-Nyassi pairing. “They may be off, but then again, sometime during the season, Marvell and Sanna may be off. So there’s never that perfect combination.”
If Cato does play, it will represent arguably his best chance to show Kinnear what he’s capable of bringing to the San Jose squad on a regular basis -- and make himself stand out among a crowded field.
“The more competition in the squad, the better the team is going to be,” Cato said. “The better I’m going to be. The better everybody’s going to be individually. So it’s always good.”