THE UNION pulled an astounding choke on Saturday night. In a span of 5 minutes, it blew a 2-0 lead late against the Columbus Crew to lose, 3-2, and got eliminated from the Major League Soccer playoff race.

You decide which of the following statements sounds closer to the truth:

In June, when he fired manager John Hackworth and replaced him with current interim manager Jim Curtin, Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said: "I think we have a lot of quality in our team. We're a good team; we have quality in the locker room."

On Saturday, after the loss guaranteed that the franchise would miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season and fourth time in five seasons of existence, Curtiin said, "I still believe you are what your record says you are, and this is what we are, not good enough."

If Sakiewicz is truly determined to make the Union into an elite and championship MLS franchise, he would do well not only to listen to the blunt evaluation from the manager he should hire on a full-time basis, but also take a hard look in the mirror and ask what role he has played in things ending up this way.

Sakiewicz can hire and fire managers; he can bring in and get rid of players; but ultimately the state of the Union is a reflection of the job he, as CEO, has done.

This isn't to say Sakiewicz should be fired. I'm not sure that would even be possible, considering his status as a partial owner and member of the board of directors.

I can't even began to explain the mysterious hierarchy of the investor outfit of Keystone Sports and Entertainment Group, but considering that Sakiewicz, as CEO and operating partner, and Jay Sugarman, as chairman/owner, are the only people in the ownership section of the team website with listed titles, I'd imagine Sakiewicz is safe from any fan calls for his ouster.

What is abundantly clear, however, is that when it comes to the day-to-day operations of the soccer side of things, Sakiewicz is the point man.

This is his baby to nurture and grow. The responsibility for the Union's failure rests with him.

Sakiewicz is the constant, from conception of the Union until now. He was the one who vetted Peter Nowak and hired him as the manager to establish the foundation for the expansion team.

Whatever the ultimate reasons for the ugly divorce between Nowak and the Union, Sakiewicz cannot be absolved from a bad decision that ultimately wasted the franchise's first 2 1/2 years of building and forced a reset.

Being a "hands-off" owner is good, unless the people you hired and let do their jobs aren't doing them well.

What it comes down to is that, for whatever reasons - whether it's been bad player identification or a refusal to commit the funds necessary - the Union has not acquired enough talent in five seasons to be a playoff team, much less a legitimate MLS Cup contender.

That's unacceptable.

That means that either Sakiewicz does not know what he is doing or the people he hired did not know what they were doing and he failed to recognize it.

Some of the personnel moves have been so critical in the building process that it is impossible to believe they were made without Sakiewicz' go-ahead.

He has had a big hand in the blunders.

From drafting forward Danny Mwanga, who became a bust, No. 1 overall in the team's first draft, to exiling fan favorites Sebastian Le Toux and Danny Califf in 2012, to dumping leading scorer Jack McInerney, to the bizarre circus of using valuable resources in keeping three No. 1 goalkeepers this season, Sakiewicz shoulders the final blame for numerous failed moves that have stunted this team's growth.

The Union clearly does not have the deep pockets to simply buy talent as do the Los Angeles Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC and expansion New York City FC.

That does not excuse Sakiewicz for failing to build at least a playoff squad in 5 years.

Since the Union began play in 2010, two teams with lower payrolls - the Colorado Rapids (2010) and Sporting Kansas City (2013) - have won the MLS Cup. Two other teams with smaller budgets - Houston Dynamo (2011, '12) and Real Salt Lake (2013) - reached the championship game.

Except for Los Angeles, which has won four titles in league history, most MLS Cup winners have not been mega-spenders.

Building an MLS Cup contender can be done within the parameters of the way the Union operates.

That the Union has failed to become a contender requires Sakiewicz to do a thorough, critical examination of everything, starting with himself.

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL