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.

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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.

“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 big picture it worked out better for Seattle to have the game remain tight, particularly after Clint Dempsey’s penalty kick in the 55th minute was stopped by Real Salt Lake goalie Nick Rimando, heroic in defeat. That clearly galvanized RSL and forced the Sounders to tighten their defense down the stretch, a flaw in recent games.

“It wasn’t an easy 4-0 blowout where the opponent gives up and that’s it,’’ Frei said. “It’s a close game where the opponent is sniffing an opportunity and we really have to be sharp defensively. Therefore, I think it’s going to give us some confidence defensively moving forward.”

What also did so, undoubtedly, was the return of team captain Brad Evans (calf strain) for his first start as the Sounders slowly get the back line they anticipated at the outset of the season. Evans played 65 minutes as he eased back into form, a showing that buoyed both the Sounders and Evans.

“I know he’s happy to be able to contribute to the team,’’ Schmetzer said. “I think that was wearing on him a little bit.”

Evans pointed out that he was roughly ripped to the ground by a Real Salt Lake player in the opening minutes.

“It was a nice, warm welcome to the game,’’ he quipped.

It was Evans who had upped the ante by declaring Saturday’s game to be “must-win.” Even though others on the Sounders demurred from that statement, countering that it’s too early in the season for such dramatics, Evans didn’t back down once the victory was accomplished.

“You look at where we were in the standings, it’s unfamiliar territory,’’ he said. “For me, at least, it was a must win. We have to start picking up points at home. If we’re going to get shellacked away from home, this has got to be a place where it’s got to be a guarantee.”

Schmetzer saw the outline of a brighter future for the Sounders on a gloriously sunny day in Seattle. He saw it in the way that Jordan Morris, finally free of the ankle pain that has hampered him all season, played with renewed energy on a series of dynamic runs. He saw it in the aggressive play of Shipp, potentially an offensive option that can open things up for the Big Three of Dempsey, Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro.

He saw it all crystallized in the first half when the Sounders totally dominated before faltering after intermission.

“That first 45 minutes was pretty darned good,’’ he said.

No, it wasn’t perfect. The Sounders must figure out a way to better capitalize on their early chances so they are not fighting for their lives in the second half.

“Maybe a little bit of, I don’t know what the word is, a little complacency or fear creeps in when you’re not playing as well as you should and you’re only winning one-nothing,’’ Evans said. “Is it a ‘here we go again’ kind of thing? But you hold on to get the win, and the most important thing is the three points.”

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.

“We hold on to fight another day, and build off what we did well,’’ Evans said.