Defender Anton Tinnerholm (3) controls the ball from Columbus midfielder Ema Boateng (20). (Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Just when New York City FC needed to take it up a gear, the team has gone into reverse at the worst time of the season.

After an encouraging start Sunday night, NYCFC had problems getting into act together and suffered a 3-1 defeat to Columbus Crew SC at MAPFRE Stadium.

The loss extended City’s (8-8-3, 27 points) winless streak to three games (0-2-1) with only four games remaining in the regular season. Columbus (34) improved to 10-4-4.

“For me, [Columbus] deserved to win today,” NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila said. “Every time they had the ball, they broke on us and we were too open.

“We were back to lack of discipline. Too much feelings instead of the brain when we play. That’s when you end up in a situation you don’t like to be in. What the cause of that is, I don’t know. It’s something we have to find out though.”

Keaton Parks had the visitors’ first chance in the 10th minute as he forced goalkeeper Andrew Tarbellto make a diving save on his shot.

Orlando City’s Keita put the ball into the net a little later, but the hosts were ruled to be offside.

The Lions started to gain momentum as they tested goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who dove to his left to parry away Gyasi Zardes’ header in the 19th minute. Only two minutes after Johnson made another big save, this time on Emmanuel Boateng, in the 24th minute, Orlando City hit paydirt as Artur found the range.

Artur slotted home a close-range shot through Johnson’s legs to score his first goal in 104 MLS matches for a 1-0 advantage.

Five minutes into the second half, Orlando doubled its lead as Pedro Santos put home a right-wing cross by former Red Bulls midfielder Derrick Etienne that went through several City players. Santos fired his shot from 13 yards beyond the outstretched arms of Johnson.

In fact, Johnson was angry by the shoddy defensive play, yelling at his defense. It was not known whether that woke them up, but the attack finally did in the 55th minute.

That’s when Valentin Castellanos put in a Jesus Medina corner kick from the left side of the penalty area in the 55th minute to slice the deficit to 2-1.

The news, however, wasn’t all good about Castellanos as he accrued a yellow card for fouling Youness Mokhtar in the 84th minute. Translated: he hit his yellow card accumulation limit and he will be forced to miss NYCFC’s next match against Montreal next Saturday.

“I think the last 30 minutes we played a good game,” Castellanos said. “We were down 2-0 and that was definitely tough, but we had a good attitude. Going forward we have to be 100 percent focused for the next games so we won’t have the same result as today.

Maxi Moralez, recovering from a knee injury, made his first appearance since Sept. 13 as he came on in the 62nd minute, replacing Gary Mackay-Steven in an attempt to give the visitors’ attack a little more life.

It wasn’t enough for a struggling side that already is missing Heber (season-ending ACL injury) and Alexandru Mitrita (loaned to a Saudi Arabian club).

A minute into second-half stoppage time, center back Maxime Chanot was whistled for a penalty kick for fouling Artur in the box. On the ensuing penalty, Johnson guessed perfectly, diving to his left to deny Zardes. The rebound, however, came right back to Zardes, who slotted the ball home for his 11th goal of the season.