Must win? Either way, this was big for the Sounders

For the Sounders, they see the trip back up the mountain as one that will be taken with a series of such small steps, rather than a rocket burst at the end.

Brian Schmetzer fully recognizes that the Sounders’ championship formula in 2016 – digging themselves a canyon-sized hole, and improbably climbing out of it all the way to the MLS Cup – is not necessarily one you want to try to replicate. He understands that teams might be allotted one such miracle a generation.

Therefore, as the Sounders found themselves knee-deep in new batch of woe to start 2017, Schmetzer hasn’t been keen on using last year’s wonder run as a rallying cry. Better to repair the problems early than to assume a bailout will once again magically present itself down the road.

“We don’t ever talk about it,’’ Schmetzer said. “Lightning in a bottle rarely strikes twice. So we avoid that. What we try to message the team is that they’re a good team. They’re a very good team. They need to believe they’re a good team.”

That might be a mental stretch when you’ve dropped three straight games by a combined 8-1 margin to fall nearly to the bottom of the MLS standings. And that’s why the Sounders’ 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field on Saturday, while hardly an artistic tour de force against a struggling team, was a vitally needed advancement.

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“That 1-0 performance might not seem like a massive step, but I think deep down inside they’re going to say, ‘Yeah, we got this. Let’s try to build on this,’ ’’ Schmetzer said.

The Sounders know they could easily have turned the game into a blowout, after a whirlwind of opportunities in the first half resulted in just one goal, that by Harry Shipp on a deflected shot. As goalkeeper Stefan Frei said, “We score one of the uglier goals, but it counts just as much as a perfect goal.”

Perhaps in the…

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