TUKWILA — Marco Pappa knew it was a slow start to the season for him. To be honest, he knew it had been a slow 20 months. So when his first goal in nearly two years came Saturday — a dazzling free-kick that was one of the prettiest scored by a Sounder this year — the 26-year-old midfielder couldn’t hide his joy or relief.

“It means a lot for me,” Pappa said after ending a drought dating to Aug. 4, 2012. “I’m feeling better and better.”

And, after an underwhelming first few months, it is starting to show.

Pappa had been an attention-grabbing addition in a busy offseason. Seattle used its No. 1 spot in the allocation order to acquire the Guatemalan international. Teams use allocation to sign mid-level U.S. national team players or someone like Pappa returning to the league after being sold for a profit.

But such signings face certain expectations.

Pappa had the résumé to suggest he would be a contributor right away. He’s a two-time MLS All-Star with the Chicago Fire who has international experience that includes a goal against the U.S. in World Cup qualifying. But he didn’t arrive to Seattle as the same player who left for Dutch club SC Heerenveen after four stellar seasons in Chicago.

Holland is where Pappa toiled for 16 months, playing just 12 games, before terminating his contract early.

“Being in Europe was not the best option for me,” he said. “Not the best decision.”

Pappa returned to MLS out of shape and out of confidence, and some glaring errors in Seattle’s Week 2 loss to Toronto dropped him to the bench for four games.

“Always to be a good player you need a little bit of swagger,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “At the start here, it started off a little bit slowly, he wasn’t sure if he had my confidence at the beginning. I think now he realizes he does, and he has that swagger back in his step a little bit.”

Pappa’s renewed confidence has been clear for a few weeks in his crisp passing and skillful dribbling along with a commitment to defensive duties. The best display, though, was a picture-perfect free kick Saturday that highlighted a signature 4-0 win for the Sounders against previously unbeaten Real Salt Lake.

In an emotional celebration, Pappa slid on his knees across the hot CenturyLink Field artificial turf and let off a loud scream.

Months of frustration released with one sweet kick.

“You’re starting to see him hit his stride,” said teammate Brad Evans. “It’s fun to watch. … I think he’s finding the bounces are kind of going his way a little bit. Whenever you have that, you keep playing with that confidence, and that’s the type of playmaker we need.”

Notes

Andy Rose could be out 4 to 6 weeks after undergoing surgery Tuesday to repair the meniscus in his left knee. Dylan Remick could be out 2 to 4 weeks with an adductor (hip) injury, and Tristan Bowen is still dealing with concussion symptoms. All three injuries occurred in a costly reserve game Sunday, a 1-0 home loss to the L.A. Galaxy II of the third-tier USL PRO.

• If the Sounders advance past amateur team PSA Elite in the U.S. Open Cup, they will host either the San Jose Earthquakes or the Sacramento Republic (USL PRO) in the fifth round, June 24 or June 25 at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184

or jmayers@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @joshuamayers