The Union lost at Orlando City, 2-1, on Tuesday in their first and, therefore, only U.S. Open Cup game this year.

Ercan Kara scored the opener in the 54th minute, and Andres Perea blasted in the second from long range in the 57th. Stuart Findlay had the Union’s tally in the 77th, his first goal for the team.

It’s only the second time in the Union’s history that they’ve gone out of the Open Cup this early. The last was in 2019. But this one comes in the context of the Union being stuck between two difficult league games, last Saturday’s 2-2 tie at Los Angeles FC and this Saturday’s home game against the rival New York Red Bulls (7:30 p.m., PHL17).

Here are some observations on what unfolded Tuesday night.

Middle class

Union manager Jim Curtin said before the game that he was going to make a lot of changes to the starting lineup, and he did. Just three players who started Saturday’s game at Los Angeles FC started this one: Jack Elliott (who wore the captain’s armband), Leon Flach, and Dániel Gazdag.

The lineup changes came with a tactical change, too. Curtin dug the 4-3-2-1 “Christmas tree” formation back out of the playbook, deploying Cory Burke alone up top in front of Gazdag and Paxten Aaronson.

It was a coincidence born of necessity that these changes came soon after LAFC manager Steve Cherundolo said Saturday night that the Union “completely bypasses midfield. They don’t really combine, they don’t play.”

Well, you can’t really bypass a five-man midfield, and because of the circumstances, it’s almost unfair to use this game as a response. But this setup didn’t create enough chances either, even with all the backups on the field.

The Union were outshot 8-3 at one point before the totals for the game ended 12-10 in Orlando’s favor, 5-4 in shots on target.

» READ MORE: Jim Curtin was transparent about wanting to play backups in this game

Here comes the cavalry

Curtin started making substitutions at halftime, when Jakob Glesnes replaced Elliott. After Orlando’s second goal, Curtin ordered a triple-sub to try to save the game: José Andrés Martínez for Flach, Julián Carranza for Burke, and Sergio Santos for Gazdag. The last entrant was Kai Wagner, who replaced Matt Real in the 76th.

The triple-sub shifted the Union back to their usual diamond 4-4-2, with Aaronson given the reins at the top of midfield and Jack McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan behind him. That group played better, and Findlay’s goal off a recycled set piece was the payoff.

As hard as the Union pushed for an equalizer, it never came. Though the Union got inches away from it on the game’s last play: a free kick that Wagner headed well, but Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese saved on goal line.

More about Findlay

This was just the 10th appearance for the Scottish centerback and his first since last year’s Eastern Conference final. He recorded 50 touches, 4 clearances, 4 interceptions, 4 recoveries, 6 of 8 duels won, and 34-of-38 passing.

Among his highlight defensive plays was a perfectly timed cutoff of an Orlando breakaway midway through the first half.

» READ MORE: The Union are in their hardest stretch of the season

Freese in goal

Making his first start since last October, Matt Freese made 3 saves and 11 recoveries. Two of the stops were big ones in first-half stoppage time: a point-blank catch on his goal line, and a charge to stop a breakaway. And in second-half stoppage time, Freese snuffed out Ruan one-on-one.

Freese was screened on both Orlando goals and perhaps could have done better on the first, but the second was unstoppable.

» READ MORE: Top teams in Major League Soccer, Union and LAFC, battle to 2-2 draw

One more thing

If you enjoy the drama of cup-tournament soccer, you’ll want to check out ESPN+ on Wednesday night. The streaming platform will have a six-hour-long whiparound show with action from all 10 Open Cup games from 6:30 p.m. until late at night out west.

There will be 12 MLS teams and eight lower-division teams in action, including two games featuring lower-league teams exclusively — which guarantees representatives in the round of 16 in two weeks. The draw for that round will take place this Thursday.