By no stretch of the imagination was last week's loss to the Portland Timbers a sign that everything is OK in the world of the Seattle Sounders. Three straight losses and five straight without a win are not things that suddenly went away. They still haven't qualified for the playoffs and they aren't suddenly 100 percent healthy.
But the Sounders played well enough that I think the breached dam has at least been plugged. Whether or not it was with bubble gum or concrete is something that will be determined in the next couple games. For now, here are the biggest questions facing the Sounders as they prepare to play FC Dallas on Saturday:
Who's in goal?
A week ago, I think most of us at least understood the thinking behind the decision to bench Michael Gspurning for Marcus Hahnemann. As good as the Austrian had been for most of his first 48 starts, he probably needed a mental break. But now that he's received that break, he needs to be back in goal if he is, indeed, the Sounders' No. 1 goalkeeper.
By my thinking, it would be a massive mistake to start Gspurning against the LA Galaxy -- to speak nothing of the playoffs -- if he hasn't been tested against FC Dallas. If Gspurning has really put the nine-goal stretch behind him, Dallas is the kind of team he should have no problem with. If he's still feeling shell-shocked, it's better to find out when there's still room for error.
There are longterm ramifications here, too. Hahnemann is young enough that I could see him playing a couple more years if properly motivated. He's also old enough and seems to have checked off most of his bucket-list items that he could retire with a clear conscience. I don't think he comes back if it's just to be a backup. But if he's the starter for the Sounders' last few games and has a real chance to win the job next year, that creates a whole new set of issues. Does Gspurning come back under those circumstances? Do the Sounders want him back if he's not their clear No. 1?
Most of this can essentially be put to rest if Gspurning starts and plays well against Dallas.
Which players can be relied upon?
Twitter has told us that Obafemi Martins did not travel, but Clint Dempsey did. Instagram seems to indicate that Eddie Johnson did not travel either. This is far from ideal. While it's encouraging that Dempsey is at least trying to give it a go, the Sounders are heading into an absolutely massive match missing two of their three top scorers.
What's even worse is that it's another game in which the Sounders won't have a good chunk of their top attackers, and one less chance for them to come together as a cohesive unit. At this point, it's really worth wondering if that day will ever come.
In the meantime, the Sounders badly need Dempsey to break out of his early MLS struggles and for Lamar Neagle to regain the form that has seen him set a career-high in goals scored. If they can't, we may well be looking at a do-or-die match at CenturyLink Field, a prospect no one in their right mind is actually relishing.
Where is this season going?
Last week was the Sounders' chance to set everything right in the world. They didn't quite get it done and, well, everything is not right. There's still quite a bit of season to be salvaged, but the work making it so is going to have to start sooner than later. If the Sounders can't beat a FC Dallas side that is basically playing for pride, even with a depleted squad, there's really not a lot of reason to believe they can suddenly go on a MLS Cup-winning run.
At some point, the excuses -- or explanations, if you prefer -- just don't matter. Sure, injuries of wreaked havoc on the Sounders. Yes, international call-ups have come at inopportune times. I'm sure there are other perfectly reasonably explanations for why certain games didn't go the way we expected. With two games potentially left in the entire season, none of it really makes a difference.
An impossibly ridiculous man once said "You play the game with the team you have, not the team you want or wish you had at a later time." As absolutely asinine as that may sound, there's truth to it, especially when you don't get to actually choose when you play the game. The Sounders need to start putting results together. It's that simple.