NEW YORK — Jim Curtin has tried his best in recent weeks to avoid some pointed questions about whether Union's losses to fellow playoff teams in recent weeks adds up to a pattern.
But for all the praise earned by setting team records for wins and points this year, it's pretty inescapable now that Curtin's team has fallen flat on its face too many times.
After the latest collapse, the Union will now face New York City FC at Yankee Stadium for the second time in a week. And there's little reason to believe things will go any differently than they did in Sunday's 3-1 loss.
Are there lineup changes to make? Perhaps, but the only two that make much sense — Derrick Jones for Haris Medunjanin in central midfield and Ilsinho for C.J. Sapong at right wing — will only do so much if the defense plays so poorly again.
The left side was especially problematic, and not just because of Auston Trusty's own goal. Ray Gaddis wasn't great either.
Trusty and Gaddis aren't going anywhere for now, and shouldn't. But they have to do a better job on New York winger Jesus Medina. He had four shots, two chances created and an 88 percent chance completion rate on Sunday.
Central playmaker Maxi Moralez had seven accurate long balls in nine attempts, four accurate crosses in six attempts and two chances created, according to WhoScored.com's data,
And of course, there was David Villa. He had a game-high six shots, four on target, including the goal that finished the Union off before halftime.
Medina, Moralez and Villa are New York's three Designated Players. They bring speed that the Union can't match, not just with ther feet but their minds. And you can be sure they will be front and center again on Wednesday (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1 and UniMás).
When new Union sporting director Ernst Tanner talks about emphasizing the importance of transition play in soccer, he can use this game as an example. While the Union tried to keep possession and play toward goal with short passes, New York waited to get the ball and slammed the gas pedal.
So, how do the same players produce a different result?
"You can take formations, you can talk about tactics — today, they out-competed us from the opening whistle," Curtin said. "We'll learn from this game, maybe make an adjustment or two, there could be a change in the lineup. But again, overall, today was about competing and we fell short in the competing aspect of things. You don't want to get out-competed, and I thought today we were."
Curtin must hope his defense gets the message.
7 p.m.: E3. New York City FC vs. E6. Philadelphia Union (Fox Sports 1, UniMás)
9:30 p.m.: W4. FC Dallas vs. W5. Portland Timbers (UniMás, ESPN+)
8 p.m.: E4. D.C. United vs. E5. Columbus Crew (Fox Sports 1, UniMás)
10:30 p.m.: W3. Los Angeles FC vs. W6. Real Salt Lake (ESPN2, UniMás)
1. New York Red Bulls, 71 points (First-round bye and Supporters' Shield)
2. Atlanta United, 69 (First-round bye)
3. New York City FC, 56
4. D.C. United, 51 (14 wins, +10 goal differential)
5. Columbus Crew, 51 (14 wins, -2 goal differential)
6. Philadelphia Union, 50
7. Montreal Impact, 46
8. New England Revolution, 41
9. Toronto FC, 36
10. Chicago Fire, 32
11. Orlando City, 28
1. Sporting Kansas City, 62 points (First-round bye)
2. Seattle Sounders, 59 (First-round bye)
3. Los Angeles FC, 57 (16 wins, +16 goal differential)
4. FC Dallas, 57 (16 wins, +8 goal differential)
5. Portland Timbers, 54
6. Real Salt Lake, 49