THERE ARE nicer or more compassionate ways to say this, but they would not accurately portray the core essence of the Union.

To get to that, one must be brutally blunt about Sunday's 3-3 draw with the Chicago Fire that all but officially ended the Union's chance to qualify for the MLS playoffs.

Facing a desperate situation at home with virtually everything on the line, the Union did the one thing it has consistently done since its inaugural season in 2010 - choked, coughed up a hairball, gagged.

If the U's history was not littered with so many similar examples, it would be hard to envision how they threw away vital points in a game in which they knew maximum points were necessary to keep a flickering flame of hope for a drive for the sixth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

On any normal club, the goal by Sebastien Le Toux in the 90th minute would have held up for a miracle victory.

For the Union, it simply provided an umpteenth opportunity to question what the heck is going on with a franchise that has continued the same sorry pattern through three coaches, dozens of players and hundreds of sports psychological consultations.

"We invent different ways to blow leads," Union manager Jim Curtin said after Chicago's Kennedy Igboananike scored the equalizer in stoppage time (92nd minute.)

There were plenty of other thoughts offered as to why things crashed the way they did, but those seven words from Curtin said it all, and not only for Sunday but for the better part of six MLS seasons.

Is what has happened during the Union's current playoff-killing, five-game MLS winless streak (0-3-2) much different from many of the things that happened during fruitless reigns of former managers Peter Nowak and John Hackworth?

Go through the 191-game MLS history of the Union and you can find approximately 20 matches that played out in a similar bewildering fashion - sure-fire victories that resulted in dropped points.

There will be little wonder when Philadelphia fails to make the playoffs for the fourth straight year and fifth time in six seasons of existence. It is a vicious cycle.

This is culture. There is something in the core nature of a franchise that continues to foul up in the same ways despite changes in managers and players.

Last October, after the Union was eliminated from playoff consideration by blowing a late 2-0 lead against the Columbus Crew, I got a heated call from team CEO Nick Sakiewicz because I wrote that responsibility for the franchise's struggles was primarily on him.

I will not single out Sakiewicz this time, but I still expect a call, because this derailed train is a reflection of ownership. That is the way it works in professional sports. Sustained success or failure always comes back to ownership and the decisions it has made.

If the manager stinks, it is ownership's fault for hiring him.

If the players stink, it is ownership's fault for not hiring the right people to evaluate talent and put together a proper roster.

Union fans made it clear whom they blame in May when they held a protest march before a match against D.C. United, telling ownership, "We've had enough," and holding a huge banner that read, "UNION FANS DESERVE BETTER."

There is no question about that, but how to improve the product is a different beast.

This is about the Union not having the financial ability to swim with the sharks of MLS. Deep pockets are not a sure-fire path to success, but they are a good start. The Union cannot spend like the top-tier franchises. Management has conceded that in words and actions.

That makes Philadelphia what it should not rightfully be - a middle-market club.

That would be fine if Union fans were content with being a West Bromwich Albion, Swansea City or one of those clubs just happy to stay qualified in England's Premier League.

The fans rightfully are not. Union fans want their franchise to be a Manchester United, Bayern Munich or FC Barcelona of MLS.

In world soccer, the richest clubs are the ones that regularly play for championship silverware. With each season, MLS grows closer to following that model. As the league continues to loosen financial restraints to bring in better talent, the teams with more money get better players.

Guess where Union ownership does not fall?

There is no evidence of a hidden cash cow or an intent to sell, so this problem will continue to grow.

When the reigning champion Los Angeles Galaxy can replace a retired Landon Donovan by purchasing Liverpool and England legend Steven Gerrard and Mexico star Giovani dos Santos or when expansion NYFC starts life with international stars David Villa, Frank Lampard and now Andrea Pirlo, it takes no imagination to figure out what direction MLS is headed.

On Sunday, the Union continued a six-season theme of infamous chokes. It simply was what this franchise does.

So how does the Union alter fortune in an MLS that will only continue to widen the gap between the legitimate championship contenders and the sad sacks?

Realistically, it cannot and will not.

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood