Just because a team boasts three major stars in its lineup doesn't mean they always will align.

New York City FC discovered that the hard way in a 3-2 home loss to the Montreal Impact on Saturday.

For the first time in MLS expansion team's short history, Designated Players David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard played together -- during the final 21 minutes -- although they could not find the equalizer before 27,645 at Yankee Stadium.

NYC FC (6-10-6, 24 points) squandered a chance to move ahead of sixth-place Montreal (8-8-3, 27) in the Eastern Conference.

"It takes time to build the team, so these things can happen," Pirlo said.

Villa, a 2010 World Cup winner with Spain, scored his 13th goal of the season via a 68th-minute penalty kick and also set up Thomas McNamara's 85th-minute tally off a nifty heel-pass.

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Pirlo, a 2006 world champion with Italy, struggled in his first start and was not his expected creative self.

"Every player in this league needs to adjust a bit," coach Jason Kreis said. "It's just a matter of time. It's an adjustment for himself and . . . the entire team."

A mainstay for England, Lampard finally made his long-awaited debut that was delayed three weeks by a calf strain. Lampard, who replaced Andrew Jacobson in the 69th minute after Villa's PK, could not produce any late-match magic.

"It was great timing," Kreis said. "I thought we would get another emotional push. Frank had good moments and bad moments. He looked a little bit rusty."

Lampard hadn't played a competitive match since May for Manchester City. "It's always difficult to come in when you're chasing the game because you need to get into it," he said. "You try to force things because you need to score goals."

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And to stop them as well

NYC FC fell behind as the Impact used the long ball and speed to take a 2-0 halftime lead. Dominic Oduro burned center back Jefferson Mena, running onto Laurent Ciman's pass in the fifth minute. Ditto for Ignacio Piatti, who scored his first of two goals in the 32nd minute off of Andres Romero's feed before chipping goalkeeper Josh Saunders. Piatti added a penalty kick in the 84th minute.

"We need to work on defense," Pirlo said. "We took six goals in a couple of matches. That's the main thing we need to work on for sure."

Because of several underachieving teams in the conference, NYC FC is not out of the race. "You can look at us winning a few games back-to-back, then we'll be in a real shot to get into the playoffs," Lampard said.

Especially after those stars get aligned.