SEATTLE — As soon as Marco Pappa’s foot struck his 55th-minute free kick, he said he knew something good was about to happen.
Pappa’s attempt from 25 yards out looped over the six-man wall and curled inside the near post to easily beat Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. The goal gave the Sounders a 2-0 lead and opened the floodgates for what would ultimately be a 4-0 drubbing of previously unbeaten RSL on Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
“Especially on free kicks, you already know,” Pappa said. “When you hit the ball, you know how good it can go. It was perfect.”
Pappa’s strike didn’t just give the Sounders breathing room in what had been a tight battle between the leagues top two teams, it also ended a personal scoring drought that stretched back nearly two years. The last time Pappa found the back of the net for either club or country was August 2012.
Pappa’s celebration, a short slide on his knees and hands raised to the heavens accompanied by a primal scream, perhaps spoke to some of the frustrations that had built up over that time.
“I wanted to put it in the net for sure,” Pappa said. “We talked about letting me score my first goal. Maybe I felt the confidence.”
The bulk of that scoreless run came during Pappa’s ill-fated tour in Europe where he spent parts of two seasons with Heerenveen of the Dutch Eredivisie. Pappa only played 283 minutes, prompting him to ask out of his contract, which cleared the way for the Sounders to claim him through the Allocation Order.
“Maybe to be in Europe was not the best option for me, not the best decision,” Pappa said. “I was losing many things, the rhythm of the game. That’s why I came back to MLS. That’s why I broke my contract.
“It was a little bit slow at the beginning, but it’s getting better and better. I’m happy with that. It feels good to feel that confidence and to feel I can show my skills. I also thank my teammates for giving me a lot of confidence, they support me no matter what happens. That’s why I’m here, to bring good things.”
As satisfying as it was to see Pappa finally score, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid was possibly even happier with his midfielder’s overall performance. With Clint Dempsey away on national team duty, Pappa has shouldered more of the Sounders’ creative load.
In the first half against RSL, Pappa routinely dropped back deeper into the midfield in an attempt to find the ball. But Schmid encouraged Pappa to stay higher in the second half, which paid dividends as the Sounders created numerous scoring chances.
“I thought Marco Pappa had a very good game today,” Schmid said. “I thought he was excellent and he helped us with those passes in the midfield. I thought we were disjointed at times in the first half when were a little too direct, but in the second half it got a lot better."
Although this may have been Pappa’s best all-around game, Schmid has been singing the Guatemalan’s praise for several weeks. It hasn’t come easy, though, as Pappa was benched earlier this season after one particularly bad performance against Toronto FC.
Games like this help banish those memories.
“It means a lot of things for me,” Pappa said. “I’m living in the present now and feeling better and better. The team is looking good. We’re in first place, now we have to keep going that way.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com