The rumblings had started to grow. Maybe not from inside the locker room, but outside of it the talk in MLS circles was a lot about how the Seattle Sounders were looking a little shaky. Well, a lot shaky. After a blazing start that saw the Sounders storm out to a 10-point lead in the Supporters' Shield race halfway through the season, the Sounders had gone 1-3-1 in their last five MLS games and found themselves within two points of five other teams.
The most vocal of those doubters were drawing comparisons to last year's collapse in which the Sounders went 0-5-3 down the stretch and completely backed into the playoffs, where their season was ended courtesy of a drubbing delivered by the Portland Timbers.
Those voices have surely been quieted.
The Sounders not only beat the Timbers on the road for the first time since 2011, but they did it in as impressive fashion as any of their 13 other league wins this season, roasting the Timbers 4-2 on Sunday.
"It's a good feeling because of everything that has been going on," Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said afterward. "We sent through a five-game stretch in 14 days where we went 3-1-1 [including U.S. Open Cup]. Everyone was talking about how we had only won [2 of 7] in league. I think that's what our team is."
Leading the way were Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, the Sounders' well-paid Designated Players who had combined for just one goal in the eight previous games since returning from the World Cup break. Martins opened the scoring with a goal in the 18th minute off an inch-perfect cross from Brad Evans. Dempsey made it 2-0 on a cheeky finish off a Martins feed in the 34th minute. What was really impressive about Dempsey's goal was the 80-yard run he made that preceded it, sprinting past several defenders to collect Martins' pass.
Not to be outdone, Martins scored the clincher in the 76th minute, just three minutes after Fanendo Adi had given the Timbers a sliver of hope. Martins almost deserves an assist as well -- his spin move before passing it to Gonzalo Pineda opened up the play. Martins also managed to squeeze through three defenders before uncorking his uncontested shot from 12 yards out.
When asked what he thought about that goal, Martins pleaded ignorance.
"I can't really remember," Martins said. "I almost fell, but with a little bit of luck I was able to stay on my feet and push the ball in front of me."
The Sounders are trying to take a similar attitude about any scars that may have been left over from last year's finish. As Schmid pointed out, this 14-day stretch was reasonably successful -- the Sounders claimed seven points in four league games and qualified for their fifth Open Cup final in six years.
They are clearly hoping any comparisons to 2013 have been put to rest.
"This isn't last year," Schmid said. "It's a different group, it's a different team, it's a different attitude. This team knows what they want."
And right now, that team wants it all. After a game like Sunday's, it's not hard to imagine them doing it.