SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - The San Jose Earthquakes survived a first half goal from notorious Quakes-killer Justin Braun and netted two of their own to beat Sacramento Republic FC 2-1 in a fourth round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match at historic Kezar Stadium.
"Cup games are always tough," said Stephenson. "You never know how it's going to go. We all come out here; we never want to lose. It wasn't the best of games, but we got the win, and that is what counts."
Cato, a menace on the wings all evening long, had narrowly missed scoring five minutes prior to his game winner, but his perseverance finally paid off in leading the Earthquakes to the next round of the tournament.
"We played them in preseason," said Cato, "so we know they are a tough team. They pressed us, they worked hard, and we knew it was going to be a tough game. We kept pushing, we kept talking and letting each other know we were going to win, and it happened."
In the last U.S. Open Cup game played at Kezar Stadium, a 2012 quarterfinal affair between San Jose and the Seattle Sounders, Cato famously scored against the Earthquakes in that 1-0 defeat. His game winner this time out made up for his Seattle goal, making amends in the eyes of head coach Mar Watson.
"We did remind him of that," said Watson, "a couple of times. Cordell had a good memory here before with another team, and he did well for us tonight ... He kept plugging away, kept working, and got better and better. He got rewarded for his efforts."
Sacramento could not overcome the deficit, and when a second yellow card offense to Chad Bartlome dropped the USL PRO newcomers to 10 men, the Republic failed to muster up any late game magic against its Northern California MLS opponents.
"We always knew San Jose would be a tough opponent," said Republic head coach Preki, "but our plan was to make it difficult for them and also to play our style of football. I thought we did that tonight, but there is still a lot of room for improvement."
But upset-minded Sacramento did earn praise from Watson, who knew the Quakes affiliate would make it difficult on his side in what could be called the Republic's biggest game of the year.
"That was the one thing we mentioned before the game," said Watson. "You need to approach the game the right way and you need to match their energy, their work-rate, and their fight because they are going to come at you. If you take them lightly, you are going to get beat."
The game started brightly for San Jose, starting as close to a first team as availability allowed, as inside the first minute Stephenson tested Republic goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek with a blistering shot from long range that was parried high into the Golden Gate Park fog before being cleared from danger.
With Sacramento on its back foot, the Earthquakes continued to press forward, often with all 10 field players on the attacking side of the center line. In the fifth minute, JJ Koval tested the ‘keeper forcing a save, Atiba Harris followed up with a loose ball shot that went wanting, and Cato finished the trifecta of terrific scoring opportunities by firing wide.
Weathering the early Quakes surge, Sacramento countered over the next 15 minutes and pushed the issue on offense. San Jose nemesis Braun fired a shot on target that was deflected wide in the 29th minute, and Max Alvarez deposited his follow-up into the side netting.
The match settled into a back-and-forth affair as the clock pushed toward intermission - until out of little, the Republic opened the scoring. A pass from Rodrigo Lopez into the left corner found a wide open Bartlome with space to whip a cross into the six-yard box. Beating his defender to the ball, Braun glanced a header inside the near post that eluded goalkeeper David Bingham and bulged the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
The goal seemed to unnerve the Earthquakes, and on the restart, the home side poured forward toward the Pacific end of Kezar. A corner kick in the 44th minute by San Jose was hammered home by Clarence Goodson with a thundering header, but the goal was waved off. Not for a foul on the Quakes, but instead for a foul by Bartlome, which was egregious enough to earn a yellow card.
Confusion reigned, as referee Juan Guzman, surrounded by a perplexed phalanx of blue and white, pointed to the spot. Lopez, among many to express his frustration, earned a yellow card for his outburst. And in the first minute of stoppage time, Stephenson drilled a hard shot into the upper right corner of the goal to level that score a 1-1.
The second half was all Sacramento through the 60th minute, but Bingham and the defense did enough to deny the visitors. In the 67th minute, after disposing Shaun Francis inside the area, Bartlome turned and blasted a shot that a sliding Ty Harden deflected inches over the crossbar.
The Earthquakes made the first substitution of the game as Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi entered for Koval in the 68th minute. In that same sequence, an excellent give-and-go between Steven Lenhart and Cato freed the young winger to fire on target, but Jakubek made the save of the night with his trailing leg.
Five minutes later, Cato would get the better of Jakubek, as a ball in the area deflected off a defender and fell to the Trinidadian. Having learned from his earlier attempt, Cato directed his shot through the ‘keeper's legs and into the goal for a 2-1 Earthquakes lead, a move he later described as by design.
The Republic would not yield, and in the 76th minute nearly equalized on a corner kick attempt that was flicked wide by Emrah Klimenta. But their comeback attempt seemed to fizzle when Bartlome was shown a second caution for dissent in the 78th, earning an early trip to the locker room and dibs on the limited Kezar Stadium hot water supply.
San Jose settled into a more defensive formation, happy to counter on the exposed Republic, but little troubled along the back line. In the 88th minute, Lenhart collected a clearance along the left sideline, and after cutting inside, rocketed a shot toward goal that skimmed the outside of the post.
Sacramento chased the game past regulation and into two minutes of stoppage time, but it was not enough, and the Earthquakes held on for a 2-1 victory against their USL PRO affiliate. Up next for San Jose is a fifth round match against the winner of the Sounders and PSA Elite on June 24.
A version of this match report was originally published on TheCup.us