When the Sounders downed their loathed and longtime rivals 3-1 Sunday, it did more than restore their self-respect — it might have saved their season.

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Just a few weeks ago, it seemed the most a home win against the Timbers could do was salvage the Sounders’ dignity. Their coach had been let go. Their scoring ability vanished. Their playoff hopes were on the runway awaiting takeoff.

But when the Sounders downed their loathed and longtime rivals 3-1 Sunday, it did more than restore their self-respect — it might have saved their season.

Since parting ways with coach Sigi Schmid in late July, Seattle has gone 3-0-1 while outscoring opponents 9-4. The Sounders had been buried in ninth place for more than a month, but now sit two points out of the Western Conference’s final playoff position — which Portland currently holds.

What’s more encouraging is that the Sounders have played two fewer games than Portland, giving them little bonus time to catch up.

They might not need it, though. Their next game is Wednesday against last-place Houston, and then Sunday vs. the Timbers at Providence Park. And even if they fall to the Dynamo in that midweek contest, a win in Portland would move them past the Timbers just like that.

“I’ve gone on record several times saying this is a committed group. I think they just needed a spark,” said interim Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer. “They’ve (watched) some of the highlights and have read some of the stories saying the Sounders aren’t going to make the playoffs, and their response has been tremendous.”

It is impossible to ignore the impact midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro has had on this team since joining it post-Schmid.

He has one goal and four assists in his stint with Seattle, thereby involving himself in more than half of its scoring during this four-game unbeaten stretch.

The void left by Obafemi Martins’ departure at the start of the season finally seems filled, as the team’s blistering offense has been revived. And when you see the likes of Clint Dempsey, Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris inflating the stat sheet, it’s safe to say the new guy is about as welcome as can be.

What are the most significant ways Lodeiro has impacted this team? Seattle captain Brad Evans was asked after Sunday’s win.

“I’d say movement. Obviously he is a smaller guy, but he plays bigger than he looks, and he draws a lot of fouls as well.” Evans said. “But also, when you add a guy like that on the field with Clint on the field, it draws some eyes away.”

It wasn’t just the offense that flourished Sunday, though. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei preserved the Sounders’ 1-0 lead in the second half when he saved a wide-open shot by forward Jack McInerney. Yes, Dempsey added a goal in the 80th minute, as did Roldan via a header in the 83rd, but it was Frei’s stop that prevented Portland from implementing a defense-first strategy late in the game.

Even so, Schmetzer cautioned about getting too excited over his team’s recent success. He has seen the struggles early in the season and knows how things can unravel at the MLS level. Still, when you consider that the Sounders just beat their rivals, crept to within two points of a playoff spot and capped a three-game winning streak, this had to be the biggest victory of the year, right?

“I’ll give you that because it’s Portland,” Schmetzer said. “But I’m very pragmatic. I’m going to enjoy this moment tonight, but I’m not going to read too much into it.”

That’s smart of Schmetzer, but it doesn’t mean others can’t read into it. The truth is, with the Seahawks and Huskies getting set to start their seasons, and the Mariners making a playoff push of their own, the Sounders just told Seattle “don’t forget about us.”

And Seattle would be silly to do so.