There are several ways to measure the gap between the MLS-best New England Revolution and upstart D.C. United, but perhaps the truest gauge is to consider each club’s high-end talent, known as designated players.

Both of United’s DPs have been sidelined much of the year, and over the past five days, they were unavailable for two unfulfilling results that have clouded the team’s playoff outlook.

The Revolution sports three DPs, all of whom continued their stellar campaigns Wednesday by scoring in an 18-minute stretch of the second half as part of a 3-2 victory before an announced 13,387 at Audi Field.

With 2½ weeks left in the regular season, Bruce Arena’s Revolution (21-4-6) is once-beaten in 18 games and cruising toward the Supporters’ Shield, awarded to the points champion. Meanwhile, United (12-13-5) is clinging to the seventh and last playoff spot in the congested Eastern Conference, just three points ahead of the 10th-place spot.

United, winless in three straight, is even with New York City FC (11-11-8) on points (41) but ahead on the first tiebreaker (victories). The teams will clash Saturday night at Yankee Stadium.

“Everything is in our hands,” Coach Hernán Losada said. “Not many teams can say that four games before the end. Let’s not forget where we’re coming from and where we are right now in only eight months. I am incredibly proud of the efforts everyone is doing to get to the point that we can be competitive with a team [such as] New England.”

United went ahead early in the second half on Nigel Robertha’s goal, but New England’s excellence was on display on consecutive goals by designated players Adam Buksa, Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou.

Ramón Ábila scored in the dying moments for United, which has lost six straight to the Revolution and is winless in the past nine meetings. All three defeats this year were by one goal, the past two coming by 3-2 counts.

“We started well in the second half,” D.C. captain Steven Birnbaum said. “They put their chances away, and those three are definitely a handful. You give them a half-chance here and there, and they’re going to put them away. They punished us. We made some silly mistakes in the back, and against a team like that, you can’t do that.”

On the 25th anniversary of United winning the inaugural MLS Cup under Arena’s direction, the Revolution extended its unbeaten streak to eight and continued its push toward a first league championship.

Amid a heavy stretch of matches, Losada tinkered with his lineup. Andy Najar, United’s attack-minded defender whose minutes are carefully managed, was not in uniform, so he can start Saturday. “Let’s hope he can be ready,” Losada said.

The continued absence of Edison Flores and Yordy Reyna — and Adrien Perez’s limited availability after returning from a long-term injury last week — left United without a conductor Wednesday. Losada again had to rely on direct play and work rate more than creative buildups.

Flores and injured winger Paul Arriola are United’s designated players, but because of injuries and national team assignments, they have combined for just 33 appearances.

Despite the visitors running away with MLS’s best record, Arena was not messing around Wednesday. He started a full-force lineup, led by Bou (15 goals), Buksa (14 goals) and Gil (league-high 17 assists).

New England also boasts U.S. national team goalkeeper Matt Turner, who made several outstanding saves.

United went ahead in the 51st minute. Drew Skundrich made an assertive jaunt. His deflected pass fell into the path of Ola Kamara for a one-timer off the far post. The rebound caromed to Robertha for a 12-yard smash and his fourth goal of the season.

Turner prevented further damage with a near-post save on Kamara. The Revolution then took charge.

Ten minutes after Robertha’s goal, Buksa beat Birnbaum to Tommy McNamara’s chipped cross and drove a powerful downward header from 10 yards.

The deadlock lasted three minutes.

From the top of the box, Gil shifted to his right, taking a sliding Joseph Mora and Donovan Pines with him. He then cut back to his left, turning Skundrich around, then unleashed a bending shot from 20 yards that beat Bill Hamid.

United’s outlook turned bleak in the 79th minute when Buksa held off three defenders in the box and slipped a no-look pass back to Bou for a sharp, 15-yard finish.

United answered in stoppage time, when substitute Kevin Paredes served a terrific cross to sub Ábila for a header from 10 yards.

Time ran out, however, on United’s frantic push and turned up the heat on the playoff chase.

“I still believe it’s possible,” Losada said. “We’re going to try. We are going to keep on fighting until the very end.”

Notes: Arriola (groin) is aiming to play next Wednesday against the New York Red Bulls, while Flores (calf) and Reyna (quadriceps) are in a race to return for the Nov. 7 finale in Toronto. Defender Brendan Hines-Ike, sidelined since July 3 with a hip injury, might be back before the season ends.