Before he fell from the weight of a heavy challenge on the edge of the Sacramento Republic FC penalty area, Earthquakes midfielder Khari Stephenson managed to slip a pass to teammate Cordell Cato.
With the Sacramento goalkeeper out of position and defenders scrambling, Cato needed only to slot his shot into the back of the net. That 73rd-minute goal proved decisive and propelled San Jose to a 2-1 win Wednesday in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup on a cold summer night at Kezar Stadium.
"We came out and fought tonight," Stephenson said. "It wasn't the best of games, but we won, and that's what counts."
Sacramento Republic, a USL Pro team and Earthquakes affiliate, struck first when forward Justin Braun headed home Rodrigo Lopez's cross in the 42nd minute. It was a fitting reward for the visitors, who'd pressed San Jose early and often in a tight-fisted first half.
But the Earthquakes responded within a minute, when they were awarded a penalty kick. San Jose forward Stephen Lenhart prepared to take the kick, but the Earthquakes coaching staff quickly yelled for Stephenson to intercede and he delivered.
"When [Chris Wondolowski] isn't here, I'm the penalty taker," Stephenson said. "It was very important to respond quickly [to the opening goal]. A lot of times, teams will lose motivation and sulk. But we scored, and we were fine from then."
Sacramento was forced to play with 10 men after attacking midfielder Chad Bartlomé received his second yellow card in the 78th minute, but the first-year USL Pro side still managed to create several good scoring chances afterward.
"It's an incredible bonus for us to come here and show this well," Sacramento coach Predrag "Preki" Radosavljevic said. "We're a young team that's barely been together three months. San Jose is a good team and a tough opponent, but I thought we made it difficult for them and played our style of football."
The Earthquakes play the winner of Seattle Sounders-PSA Elite in the next round of the U.S. Open Cup on June 24.