Trinidad & Tobago's Cordell Cato (blue jersey) has worked hard to merit a place in the San Jose Earthquakes first team. (Photo: Denis Concordel/www.widgic.com)
SAN JOSE, California -- After a grueling six week preseason schedule, the San Jose Earthquakes have eyes set on Tuesday’s opening leg of their CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) quarterfinal with Toluca. Among the battle tested stands midfielder Cordell Cato, excited to be competing in the region’s most prestigious club tournament.
“For me, it is the most important tournament we have in North America,” said Cato. “It is like the equivalent of the European Champions League, and it is something we strive for here outside of MLS. Any player having an opportunity to play in this is huge.”
The 21-year old Trinidad & Tobago native burst onto the scene for the Earthquakes in 2013 after spending his rookie season with the Seattle Sounders. Thought to possess merely potential on his arrival, Cato worked tirelessly to earn a first-team place. He spent nearly four months on the substitutes bench, before starting 10 of the season’s last 12 games and made three appearances in the CCL group stage.
“Cordell’s coming off a great second half of last season,” said San Jose head coach Mark Watson. “I think he was one of the big surprises last year. He kind of came into his own performance after performance and kept deserving to be out there again and again.”
Entering preseason, in the Earthquakes 4-4-2 starting formation, the apparent heirs at outside midfielder were Cato and Shea Salinas. They have been pushed, however, by newcomer Atiba Harris and competition among the trio has been fierce.
“Last year is done,” said Cato, “and all the guys including myself have to come out every day and prove to the coach why we should be starting. It’s in the preseason you earn your minutes leading up to the first game which for us is the Champions League quarterfinal. We have to show now that we are ready.”
Cato certainly impressed in his last preseason appearance for San Jose as he netted the lone goal in the Earthquakes’ 1-0 victory over Jamaica’s Portmore United on March to close out the Rose City Invitational tournament in Portland.
Not known for his scoring — he has only one career MLS goal — Cato is tasked more with providing service to the Earthquakes’ talented forward corps, something U.S. international Chris Wondolowski appreciates.
“He is definitely more confident and a lot more comfortable on the ball,” said Wondolowski. “His decision making is the biggest thing that’s really improved and I think that’s going to keep coming. The game is going to continue to slow down for him and I expect he’s going to be big for us for this season.”
The Quakes will need Cato to come up big against Toluca, which is riding high in Liga MX. That challenge is welcomed the Defence Force youth product.
“It’s going to be a tough game, but one that we can live up to,” said Cato. “Playing the best and then beating the best would make advancing an even bigger achievement.”