The Lions (7-10-13, 34 points) failed, demoralized 4-1 by D.C. United (8-9-13, 37 points) and ending the match a man down Saturday night at RFK Stadium.

WASHINGTON, D.C. ― Mathematically, the match may not have been a must-win, but in every other sense it was.

It was a must-win to keep Orlando City in the thick of a tight playoff race. It was crucial to ignite confidence in a team recovering from two of its worst losses this season. And, it was a test against a nearly-identical team statistically.

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The Lions (7-10-13, 34 points) failed, demoralized 4-1 by D.C. United (8-9-13, 37 points) and ending the match a man down Saturday night at RFK Stadium.

Orlando City now has conceded 12 goals in the last three matches and remain in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, while United rose above the playoff cut line to sixth place immediately after the match.

Lions coach Jason Kreis said the problem seems obvious.

"We can't allow 12 goals in three games," he said. "So, we continue to work. We've been working defensively since I got here. I thought we were moving in a very positive direction, and things went drastically wrong in the last three matches."

When Júlio Baptista rifled a free kick into the top right corner of the net in the 72nd minute, it already was too late to salvage a result. Too much had gone wrong.

United led 1-0 after a defensive lapse in the 34th minute allowed Patrick Nyarko to back-heel a pass to Taylor Kemp in the box. Kemp's cross cleared a sliding Kevin Molino, threw Lions goalkeeper Joe Bendik off and found Patrick Mullins, who slid into the ball for a goal.

A diving save by Bendik in the 45th minute kept the score the same entering halftime. The couple dozen Orlando City fans among the announced crowd of 25,842 people had no idea the first half would look composed and polished compared to the second.

Kemp nabbed another assist in the 51st minute, eluding defenders with his footwork and sending a sharp-angled cross into the box. Lloyd Sam charged goal and beat Lions defender Mikey Ambrose, who got the start over Luke Boden, for a header that bounced in front and then into the net.

Orlando City's defense looked uncomfortable and unable to keep up with United's attack. Three minutes after Sam's goal, Mullins beat centerback David Mateos for a slow-moving grounder into the far post that made the score 3-0.

"I am honest, I have to stay more close to him," Mateos said of the goal. "I take my responsibility in this goal, but when you have 10 men, you're [down] 3-0, another goal can come.

"I can say nothing because today, for us, was an important game. When we [came] here, we're thinking about three points. The team suffers greatly, because we try and try, but the result is not coming in the right moments, ya know?"

Kreis calmly remained on the bench, watching the events unfold with a hand to his mouth and his legs slightly crossed. In the postgame press conference he said the team regularly plays poorly at the start of the second half, like the players "need to be woken up" and he doesn't know why.

In the 63rd minute, he subbed on Baptista for Kaká and Cristian Higuita for Servando Carrasco.

Intensity during a game that felt very much like a playoff match led officials to book DC's Luciano Acosta with a yellow card for unsportsmanlike behavior in the 25th minute. Multiple United players hotly contested the call, and one pushed Mateos out of the way as he spoke with the official.

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It was the first of four yellows – three DC and one Orlando – for the same reason.

With so many setbacks already, Orlando City could ill-afford another, but was handed one nonetheless when Antonio Nocerino received a straight red and was ejected in the 66th minute, forcing distressed Lions to play with 10 men the rest of the way.

Nocerino said through a translator after the match he thought the ejection was not fair. He was trying to protect himself and opened his arms a little, he said. There was contact, but he was not trying to hurt anyone.

Baptista prevented a shutout but D.C. regained its three-goal lead in the 90th minute when midfielder Julian Buscher controlled a cross, turned and scored to the right of Bendik.

"Something is wrong and not working," Kaká said. "For sure, we have to fix that as soon as possible."

The Lions now have just four matches left in the regular season and must rest and recuperate quickly ahead of a Wednesday night road trip to Toronto.

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