NEW YORK — At precisely 7:38 p.m. Saturday, inside a largely deserted Yankee Stadium, D.C. United kicked off a critical match against free-falling New York City FC. The next two hours would go a long way toward determining whether the playoffs were in United’s future.

Instead of rising to the occasion, Coach Hernán Losada’s side played 10-plus minutes of horrific soccer, resulting in a three-goal deficit. It grew worse, and by the end of an abysmal night in the Bronx, United was saddled with a 6-0 defeat, the worst in its 25-year MLS history.

Asleep from the start, United conceded a goal after 35 seconds, then two on bumbling plays not seen since under-8 house leagues.

All that was missing was a player distracted by a bumblebee.

“The game was over after 10 minutes,” Losada said. “That is painful.”

Another goal before intermission and two in the second half left United three points behind NYCFC, the team with which it was tied on points at the start of the weekend. The New York Red Bulls (12-11-7, 43 points) also passed United (12-14-5, 41), which sits at ninth, two slots below the threshold.

NYCFC (12-11-8, 44) had scored two goals in its previous six matches.

United’s previous worst regular season defeats were 6-1 at Kansas City in 1997 and 5-0 at Columbus in 2015.

Winless in four straight, D.C. is going to need seven to nine points from the remaining schedule — at home against the Red Bulls and Columbus Crew next week and at Toronto on Nov. 7 — to avoid elimination.

“It’s possible,” Losada said, “and we will see until it’s impossible.”

Not only has United never won on the narrow, makeshift, vertigo-inducing pitch laid across a baseball field, it has looked bad trying on several occasions. This performance was a monstrosity.

“This doesn’t define us,” midfielder Felipe Martins said. “We know that was a bad night for us, but there’s no time to cry.”

It was worthy of tears. Just after kickoff, Malte Amundsen and Santiago Rodriguez worked the left side. Amundsen crossed to Thiago Andrade, who had slipped behind Tony Alfaro and in front of Joseph Mora for a seven-yard side-footed finish to the far corner.

In the previous meeting, the 20-year-old Brazilian had beaten United with a solo effort deep in stoppage time.

NYCFC’s second goal began with goalkeeper Sean Johnson driving a long goal kick into United’s end. There seemed to be a miscommunication between goalkeeper Bill Hamid and defender Donovan Pines. Hamid came out of the box and miskicked the clearance, directly to Valentin Castellanos for a 30-yard one-timer into the vacant net.

It got worse in the 11th minute. With United in possession in midfield, Pines passed back to Steven Birnbaum, who slipped. Castellanos pounced on the free ball and embarked on a breakaway, culminating with a composed shot past Hamid for his 15th goal of the year.

After Johnson’s sensational save on MLS leading scorer Ola Kamara, NYCFC extended the lead before intermission. Hamid blocked Castellanos’s bicycle kick in the box, but Maxi Moralez cleaned up the rebound without a challenge.

In a season littered with injuries, call-ups and busy stretches, Losada had turned to his 29th different starting lineup. Alfaro rejoined the back line, and Kevin Paredes returned as a forward instead of a wing back.

Hamid started despite being hobbled by a leg injury that limited his kicking and leaping ability.

After sitting out Wednesday against New England, Andy Najar, arguably United’s best player, figured to start here. But he was not in uniform again and did not appear on the injury report, either. The team has been carefully managing his workload all year, and on Saturday, United said without specifics that Najar was “day-to-day.”

Winger Paul Arriola is expected to return from a groin injury Wednesday against the surging Red Bulls (6-0-2 in the past eight outings), and forwards Edison Flores and Yordy Reyna are in a race to return in time for the finale.

Forward Yamil Asad, whose playing time has faded as the season transpired, was not with the team Saturday, despite being healthy. Instead, Losada opted for a third goalkeeper, Chris Seitz, on his 20-man active roster.

NYCFC entered the match in a tighter spot than United: a six-game winless streak (0-3-3). Outside the stadium, a fan carried a banner calling for the ouster of Coach Ronny Deila, chief executive Brad Sims and sporting director David Lee.

There is no better tonic than a bumbling opponent, especially one that is among the worst in the league on the road (2-10-4). With the game lost, Losada burned all five substitutions at halftime. Nothing changed.

Amundsen’s one-hop cross met Alexander Callens unmarked crashing the six-yard box for an easy header in the 52nd minute. Jesus Medina added the sixth goal, smacking an 18-yarder under Hamid in the 74th.

Hamid made several quality saves to prevent further embarrassment.

“No one should lose the faith in this team,” Martins said. “We hate to be in this position, so now is the time everyone should stick with us. . . . This is an episode we’re going to leave behind.”