D.C. United coach Troy Lesesne feels fortunate to work with Christian Benteke, who is battling the likes of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi for the MLS Golden Boot after a flying start to 2024.

Benteke has been in incredible form this year, scoring 11 goals in 10 MLS appearances to join Suarez and Cristian Arango at the top of the scoring charts, with Messi one behind that trio.

The former Liverpool and Aston Villa man scored a hat-trick of headers last time out, helping D.C. recover from behind for a 3-2 win over Atlanta United. 

With Lesesne's former employers the New York Red Bulls visiting Audi Field on Wednesday, the D.C. boss will be hoping for more of the same.   

"He's incredible," Lesesne said of Benteke. "He's got two hat-tricks this year, he's on 11 goals now and he's just such an incredible presence in our team, even beyond scoring.

"He deserves to be talked about first. He is a handful, and he allows other players to come into the match and have dangerous opportunities themselves. I'm very lucky to work with him."

Benteke's form has helped put D.C. in the playoff picture early on this campaign, but the Red Bulls are three points clear of them, sitting third in the Eastern Conference.

They also came out on top in a thriller last week, with two late goals helping them overcome the New England Revolution 4-2.

One of their goalscorers, Elias Manoel, says the Red Bulls' ability to pick up results when not at their best will take them far this term.

"It was really important to keep the consistency because even though we had some unfavourable results, in some games we didn't lose as well," Manoel said.

"This consistency is going to be really good at the end of the competition."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

D.C. United – Christian Benteke

Against Atlanta last week, Benteke became just the second player since 2010 to score three headed goals in a single MLS game, alongside the Five Stripes' Juan Purata in 2022 (versus Toronto FC).

New York Red Bulls – Elias Manoel 

Manoel recorded both a goal and an assist as a substitute in New York's win over the Revolution last week. 

He joined Cameron Harper and Bradley Wright-Phillips as the only Red Bulls players over the last 10 seasons to come off the bench and record both a goal and assist. Will he be rewarded with a start?

MATCH PREDICTION – DRAW

This will be the 107th meeting between D.C. and the Red Bulls in all competitions – it is the most-played match between two MLS teams. The Red Bulls, winners of the last three meetings, have never won four straight against D.C.

D.C. have gone unbeaten through their last three games, winning two and drawing one, while scoring multiple goals in each match. An entertaining draw could be on the cards here… 

The Red Bulls are coming off a 4-2 win over New England in which they only had 33.1 per cent of possession. They have had four games with less than a third of possession and four or more goals in the last three seasons, more than every other MLS team combined.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

D.C. United – 39.1%
New York Red Bulls – 32%
Draw – 28.9% 

Kylian Mbappe's passion, mentality and drive are the fundamental factors that make him so special, according to France legend Thierry Henry. 

Les Bleus' skipper is heavily linked with a blockbuster move to Real Madrid after it was officially announced last week that he will depart Paris Saint-Germain at the end of this campaign.

Mbappe leaves Parc des Princes as the club's all-time leading scorer, while he has just been named Ligue 1's Player of the Year for a fifth successive season, and is set to top the goalscoring charts for a sixth year running.

Still only 25 years old, he has already played in two World Cup finals - lifting the trophy in 2018 and scoring a hat-trick in the 2022 showpiece as France lost out to Argentina on penalties - and won six domestic titles. 

Mbappe has also scored 46 goals in 77 caps for Les Bleus, trailing only Henry (51) and Olivier Giroud (57) on their all-time list, and will look to add the European Championship to his list of honours when he leads his country into the 2024 tournament next month.

Saluting the forward in a new BBC documentary entitled 'Mbappe', Henry said: "The great champions have something in them that I cannot describe.

"When you're a champion, you have to bring something to the table, something extra that is not normal, and that he has. The higher you go, the less normal you are.

"When it comes to this mentality and will, champions do have something that is a bit different to others.

"What I can see in this guy is passion, the will and the love of the game. If you do what needs to be done with those tools, then you're unstoppable.

"What he has achieved already, some people didn't do that in their careers, and they were outstanding players."

There are many similarities between Henry and Mbappe, most notably their styles of play with explosive attacking flair and electric speed. Both grew up in the Paris suburbs, started their senior careers at Monaco and went on to win the World Cup with France.

And the 46-year-old offered a closer insight into what makes the PSG forward on another level to his contemporaries.

"What I see is the same will of wanting to succeed," he analysed. "I don't care about anything else if you don't have that will, that drive - and Kylian has that in abundance. What makes him so special for me is easy; he thinks.

"People always talk about his speed. I know a lot of players that are fast, but can they play football at that level? No. Can they score? Can they run as fast as he does with the ball?

"Can you still see the game when you're running at full speed? You need to have a lot of tools in order to do that, and he's also clever.

"Of course, he has to work on stuff, he's still young and people forget that. He's not yet a finished article. Are you ever a finished article, whether it's in life or football?"

Ben Olsen had to hold a few "tough conversations" to get the Houston Dynamo out of their slump, with Saturday's Texas derby at Austin FC offering them the chance for back-to-back wins.

The Dynamo approached Saturday's trip to Sporting Kansas City both winless and goalless in three MLS matches (one draw, two defeats), while they were also dumped out of the U.S. Open Cup by Detroit City FC.

However, goals from Hector Herrera and Ibrahim Aliyu handed them a 2-1 road win and lifted them into the top seven of the Western Conference – above Austin by a single point. 

Speaking ahead of Wednesday's grudge match against a team that won the reverse fixture less than a month ago, Olsen credited his players for coming through a tough patch. 

"I think some people were questioning us, and we've had a few tough conversations, particularly with the U.S. Open cup knockout. This was just a really good response," he said.

"We have to figure out when we are at our best, to think, 'who are we, at our best?'

"It was our defensive effort that we hung our hat on last year, so it's a bit of a renewed feeling of that being there."

Austin, by contrast, were on a run of four wins in six games before they were beaten 2-1 by another Texas rival in FC Dallas on Saturday.

Despite that reverse, centre-back Julio Cascante has praised the defensive work done by coach Josh Wolff, with Austin looking far more competitive than was the case in their dismal 2023 season.

"Despite everything, we've worked very hard on the defensive side," Cascante said.

"Emphasis has been placed on the defensive side, but defending is done as an entire team. It starts with the number nine. I think that makes the difference."

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

Austin FC – Sebastian Driussi

Driussi scored a consolation from the penalty spot at Dallas on Saturday, his third goal of the season in eight MLS starts. 

Only Diego Rubio, who has started three additional games, has matched that tally for Austin this year. The Argentine will be looking to carry his team's attacking hopes again here.

Houston Dynamo – Amine Bassi 

Bassi recorded his third assist of the season by teeing up Hector Herrera's 31st-minute strike against Sporting on Saturday. 

All three of Bassi's assists have come on goals from outside the box this season – Houston's only three strikes from outside the penalty area.

MATCH PREDICTION – AUSTIN FC WIN

Houston have won three of their first five road matches this year, having only recorded more than three regular-season away wins in one of the last 10 campaigns, winning four times on their travels in 2022.

However, Austin have won all four of their previous home matches against Houston, netting multiple goals in each contest. The Dynamo are one of two teams – alongside Kansas City – that Austin have hosted more than once while posting a 100 per cent record.

Austin have also won three straight at home after only winning once in their previous 10 outings at Q2 Stadium. Back on home soil after Saturday's derby loss, they will expect a different result. 

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Austin FC – 44.9%
Houston Dynamo – 26.9%
Draw – 28.2%

Pat Noonan will not let his FC Cincinnati team get too high following Saturday's memorable win over their rivals Columbus Crew, warning Atlanta United will offer them a stern test on Wednesday.

Cincinnati recorded a huge 2-1 road win over the MLS Cup holders last time out, with Kevin Kelsy and Luciano Acosta on target.

That victory – their fourth in a row – kept them three points behind Inter Miami at the Eastern Conference summit, but Noonan says any drop-off in midweek will be punished.

"The sign of a good team is when you have a poor performance or result, how do you respond to it and come back and have a better performance, or have a better result?" Noonan said.

"On the other side, when you have a good performance, how do you respond to that? Obviously, we have a short turnaround against a difficult opponent who we've just seen.

"If we don't turn it around the right way and if we're not prepared for Atlanta, we'll get humbled very quickly. Just like we can't get too low with bad performances, we can't get too high."

Atlanta, meanwhile, are 12 points behind Cincinnati in 10 th place, having been beaten 3-2 by D.C. United on Saturday.

They also lost 2-1 to Cincinnati when the sides last met in April, with two goals in two second-half minutes handing the Orange and Blue a comeback victory.

Asked what he would look to change ahead of Wednesday's rematch, boss Gonzalo Pineda said: "Simplify the message. It's about putting the players in a position to succeed, giving them tools, and the message that sometimes less is more."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

FC Cincinnati – Luciano Acosta

Acosta has scored in four consecutive games, tied for the longest goalscoring streak in MLS play in Cincinnati's history.

He also had a four-game streak last June while Brandon Vazquez did so between July and August in 2022. Will he break new ground on Wednesday?

Atlanta United – Thiago Almada

Almada scored from the penalty spot against D.C. last time out, with one of his five shots in the game.

He has recorded five MLS games this year with at least five attempts at goal, with only Denis Bouanga (eight) and Lionel Messi (six) having more. He also netted his team's only goal when they last faced Cincinnati on April 20.

MATCH PREDICTION – FC CINCINNATI WIN

Atlanta are unbeaten in five all-time trips to Cincinnati in MLS, recording two wins and three draws there. Cincinnati are the only team the Five Stripes have visited more than twice without ever losing in MLS play.

However, Atlanta have only won two of their last 23 away games in all competitions (10 draws, 11 defeats) in a run dating back to late March 2023. No MLS team has fewer away wins in all competitions in that time.

Cincinnati have won their last four games and could set a new team record for successive victories here. With home advantage on their side, they are favourites to do so.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

FC Cincinnati: 45.4%
Atlanta United: 26.9%
Draw: 27.7%

Nashville SC are ignoring any suggestions that an MLS playoff position is out of their reach ahead of the midweek clash with Toronto at GEODIS Park.

That was the message from the Boys in Gold head coach Gary Smith, whose side sit 13th in the Eastern Conference after their 1-0 defeat to Charlotte FC last time out.

Nashville are still only three points adrift of ninth-placed Philadelphia Union and a place in the postseason, with Smith refusing to give up hope.

"I don't believe, and nor do any of the guys in the group, that we are by any way, shape or form, out of the hunt for a playoffs position," he said. 

"A couple of results get you right back in to the mix again, and that's, of course, our challenge over the next two games."

Toronto are fourth in the East standings after their 3-2 defeat against New York City FC in their last outing.

Visiting head coach John Herdman is looking forward to facing a familiar face in Jacob Shaffelburg when his side visit, however.

"He's flying at Nashville," Herdman remarked on Monday. "I've seen some stats at the weekend about his impact on their team and how many touches he has in that opposition half and how many crosses are leading to goals. 

"I remember having him in that Gold Cup recently. He came off the bench and scored against the US. It shows where he's at now as a player."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Nashville SC – Sam Surridge

Former Nottingham Forest striker Sam Surridge continues to provide the goals for Nashville this term, scoring a club-leading five in MLS this campaign.

The Englishman failed to find the target against Charlotte, but managed a hat-trick against CF Montreal in his previous outing before that.

Toronto – Prince Osei Owusu

In the absence of the in-form Federico Bernardeschi, Prince Osei Owusu will be expected to step up against Nashville.

The Toronto forward leads the club scoring charts with five goals in 12 MLS appearances this year, two ahead of any teammate in the league.

MATCH PREDICTION – DRAW

Opta's win probability has Nashville as the overwhelming favourites for this one, yet a draw may be more likely considering each team's recent form and head-to-head records.

Toronto are unbeaten in five straight meetings with Nashville (W2 D3), with the Boys in Gold the only side the Canadians have played three or more times since the start of the 2022 season and not lost against.

Nashville have also won only two of their last 16 matches against MLS opponents in all competitions (D6 L8), though 11 of the 12 points they have collected over that time have come at home (W2 D5 L3).

Smith's hosts have conceded at least once in 12 consecutive matches in all competitions, too, their longest streak in club history after opening the season with three straight clean sheets.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Nashville SC win: 55.4%

Toronto win:18.6%

Draw: 26%

Unai Emery says Aston Villa have achieved their dream after qualification for next season's Champions League was secured.

Tottenham's 2-0 defeat to Manchester City on Tuesday left Ange Postecoglou's fifth-place side five points behind Villa, who subsequently sealed a fourth-place finish with a game to spare.

More importantly, the Villans are back in UEFA's premier club competition for the first time since the 1982-83 season, when they suffered European Cup quarter-final elimination to Juventus.

Additionally, the club secured their highest top-flight finish since the 1995-96 campaign, which they also ended in fourth place.

Emery, whose side reached this season's Europa Conference League semi-finals, now has his sights set on Europe's top prize next season, in which he is demanding even more from his players.

"It's a very special day," the Spaniard told Villa's official media channels. "It was our dream when we started the season to be here. To play Champions League is, after the Premier League, the best.

"You can play in the Premier League against the best teams in the world, it's very difficult. When you are playing in the Champions League, you are playing against the best teams, at the same time, from other countries. And it's amazing.

"We know the history of Aston Villa is so long and so successful. Even in the Champions League, we knew the responsibility was to try to increase our level, try to be demanding and to dream.

"I want to enjoy more and, next year, the new challenge starts for us. To build a team again, and be strong to go and always increase our level; this is our objective."

Wilfried Nancy says the Columbus Crew will use their next three road games in MLS to prepare for the CONCACAF Champions Cup final, starting with Wednesday's trip to CF Montreal.

MLS Cup holders Columbus will face Mexican side Pachuca in the Champions Cup final on June 1, having seen off Monterrey in the semi-finals earlier this month.

Before then, they face visits to Nancy's former employers Montreal, as well as the Chicago Fire and Orlando, in MLS. Last Saturday's 2-1 home defeat to FC Cincinnati left the Crew eighth in the Eastern Conference standings. 

Asked about the challenges presented by their road stretch, Nancy said: "It's exciting. We'll play many games, we'll face different kinds of teams. 

"We want to challenge ourselves. We want to get better and find ways to have good performances. We have this spirit.

"This is the spirit of my team, the spirit of wanting to do well. We'll play Montreal, then Chicago and Orlando, then we play the final. Three games to prepare the final. This is the way we see it."

Montreal are just three points behind Columbus, having seen a 2-0 lead evaporate in their 3-2 defeat to Inter Miami last time out.

Despite the loss, midfielder Bryce Duke was encouraged by the way Montreal kept Lionel Messi quiet, saying: "We need to keep going in this direction and get results. 

"It's going to be a tough month ahead. It will be important to recover and be ready for Wednesday.

"It's a great achievement to contain Messi, now the aim will be to keep the lead next time and play the full 90 minutes."

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

CF Montreal – Jules-Anthony Vilsaint

Vilsaint recorded a goal and an assist against Miami, his second MLS game with one of each, with the other coming versus Columbus last September. 

The only Canadian with more such games than Vilsaint for Montreal in MLS is Patrice Bernier, with five.

Columbus Crew – Max Arfsten 

Arfsten scored what proved to be a late consolation off the bench against Cincinnati, his third career goal as a substitute in MLS (including playoffs).

Only three players have more goals off the bench in MLS play since the beginning of last season – Duncan McGuire with six, Josef Martinez with five and Tyler Wolff with four.

MATCH PREDICTION – DRAW

Columbus are unbeaten in their last four meetings with Montreal, including a scoreless draw when the sides met in April.

The Crew's longest ever unbeaten run against Montreal is five matches, their last streak of that length being recorded between 2016 and 2018.

They had their nine-game unbeaten streak across all competitions snapped by Cincinnati last time out, though seven of those matches had finished level. Montreal tend to be solid at home, so another draw could be on the cards.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

CF Montreal – 36.8%

Columbus Crew – 34.7%

Draw – 28.5%

Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City will feel pressure similar to "the serve to win Wimbledon" when they look to secure the Premier League title on the final day of the season.

The Citizens took a giant stride towards clinching a record-breaking fourth successive top-flight crown with a 2-0 win over Tottenham on Tuesday.

Erling Haaland struck twice in the second half as City leapfrogged Arsenal to top spot, while moving two points clear of the Gunners with one match remaining.

Guardiola's side, who welcome West Ham to the Etihad Stadium on the final day, are red-hot favourites to seal the deal with a victory, with Opta predicting they have an 84.3 per cent chance of winning the league now.

But the Spaniard admits it is not a foregone conclusion and will not be plain sailing, and highlighted similar memorable examples of where City have had to really dig deep to get over the line.

 

"The tennis players say 'the serve to win Wimbledon', the last game is the most difficult one," he told BBC Sport. "We know what we're playing for. The tension is there."

"[The players] were playing for the consequences of the result [in the first half against Tottenham]," he told reporters in his news conference. "When you do that, you are going to lose the Premier League. You cannot perform to your level. They are human beings, I understand the pressure.

"Not even Arsenal played well against Manchester United [the Gunners' 1-0 win at Old Trafford]. They knew if they did not win there, they would not win the Premier League. It will be the same on Sunday for us against West Ham.

"We will feel the pressure. Look at Aston Villa a few seasons ago, 2-0 down with 15 minutes to go. Sergio Aguero against QPR, went to 93 minutes. It is normal. That is why we talk and say everyone has to relax, and do what they have to do. That is all."

Michel knows it will not be easy for Girona to secure a second-place finish in LaLiga after they slipped to a 1-0 home loss to Villarreal on Tuesday.

But the players will give their all to try and finish an impressive season on a high, the coach vowed.

After losing at home to Villarreal, Girona are third on 75 points, one behind Barcelona, who have a game in hand.

"I see it as very difficult," Michel told reporters. "Barca are already in second place with two wins and can win all three games. It's a very complicated situation for second place.

"I see everyone in the team really fired up. These players just have to be applauded for the season they are having.

"After winning against Barcelona we had two games we could have won and we only got one point."

Girona visit Valencia, ninth in the league, on Sunday. They conclude their campaign at home against lowly-ranked Granada on May 25. Barca's remaining league fixtures include Almeria, Rayo Vallecano and Sevilla.

Michel was nevertheless proud of his team and the fans despite the disappointing result.

"They [the fans] have shown us that they are with the team, that they are happy with the way we do things. They know that together we are much stronger. I am very proud of the fans," the Spaniard said.

With their best finish of 10th coming in the 2017-18 and 2022-23 campaigns, Girona's place in next season's Champions League is in doubt.

According to The Times, Premier League reigning champions Manchester City and their sister club Girona will not both be able to compete in the tournament unless Abu Dhabi's City Football Group, who acquired 47 per cent of the LaLiga club in 2017, reduce their shareholding in one of the teams.

Ange Postecoglou claimed the foundations at Tottenham are "really fragile" after a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City put paid to their Champions League qualification hopes.

Erling Haaland struck twice in the second half as City leapfrogged Spurs' bitter rivals Arsenal to return to the Premier League summit heading into the final day.

Postecoglou had been left flabbergasted in the build-up by Tottenham fans claiming they would be happy to lose to Pep Guardiola's side in order to dent the Gunners' title bid.

And while there was a generally flat atmosphere inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, home supporters were filmed celebrating City's opening goal while others chanted "are you watching Arsenal?"

The head coach, who was also captured arguing with a Spurs fan, was left far from impressed as his side's top-four hopes ended, with Aston Villa securing a place in next season's Champions League at their expense.

"The foundations are really fragile," he said. "The last 48 hours have shown me that. "It's inside the club, outside the club, everywhere. It's been an interesting exercise. It's just my observations.

"I can't dictate what people do. They're allowed to express themselves any way they want. But when we've got late winners in games, it's because the crowd has helped us.

"Maybe, I'm out of step, but I just don't care, I just want to win. I want to be successful at this football club; that's why I was brought in. So how other people want to feel, and what their priorities are, are of zero interest to me.

"I know what's important to build a winning team - that's what I need to concentrate on."

Seattle Sounders visit Western Conference leaders Real Salt Lake in midweek and Brian Schmetzer is enjoying the challenges of chasing an MLS playoff spot.

The visiting Sounders have two wins and a draw in their last three outings after defeating Portland Timbers 2-1 on the road.

Seattle sit 10th in the West, just three points shy of St. Louis City above them, and Schmetzer knows the pressure is there to chase a postseason position.

"We're three points from the playoff line, that pressure is still there," said Schmetzer.

"We're still too far down the standings for our liking. But you go to Philly and get points, you come here [to Portland] and get points.

"You have 120 minutes of kids gritting it out [in the U.S. Open Cup]. I can sense that the group is finding its form."

Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan added: "We feel we definitely have a good enough team to compete for trophies this year."

The hosts are unbeaten in their last eight league matches, sitting top of the West standings by two points heading into this midweek clash.

Pablo Mastroeni's side were held to a 2-2 draw with LA Galaxy in their last outing, with this now the chance to respond on home turf.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Real Salt Lake – Cristian Arango

Cristian Arango scored both of Real Salt Lake’s goals on Saturday to take his total to 11 for the season.

Only five players have scored more than 11 goals in a season for RSL, including just one, Damir Kreilach (twice), since 2015.

Seattle Sounders – Raul Ruidiaz

Raul Ruidiaz scored the winning goal for Seattle against Portland on Sunday, his seventh goal of the season, and the fifth different game he's scored in.

The Sounders have collected 10 points (W3 D1 L1) in the five games in which Ruidiaz has scored compared to three points (W0 D3 L4) in the seven he hasn't.

MATCH PREDICTION – REAL SALT LAKE WIN

Salt Lake are unbeaten in 13 straight regular-season home matches against Seattle (W10 D3) with the Sounders' only ever league win at RSL coming in 2011.

RSL has had just one longer home unbeaten run against a single opponent, going 18 in a row at home against the Colorado Rapids without losing from 2007—19, making them the favourites for this clash.

Yet Seattle have won consecutive away matches for the first time since March-April last season.

The Sounders scored five times in those matches after scoring just four in their first five on the road this season, suggesting goals are on the cards here.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Real Salt Lake win – 40.3%

Seattle Sounders win – 30.1%

Draw – 29.6%

Carlo Ancelotti has backed Toni Kroos for this year's Ballon d'Or if Real Madrid and Germany win the Champions League and Euro 2024 respectively.

With another LaLiga title under their belts, Madrid are into the Champions League final after they overcame Kroos' former club Bayern Munich in the last four.

Borussia Dortmund stand in Los Blancos' way of a record-extending 15th European crown.

And Kroos, who has come out of international retirement in order to boost Germany's Euro 2024 chances, has played a key role in Madrid's success this term.

In fact, he has been so good, that Ancelotti cannot see why the Ballon d'Or would not be a possibility.

"The Ballon d'Or for Kroos? Well, anything can happen," Ancelotti told reporters after Madrid hammered Alaves 5-0 on Tuesday.

"If he wins the Champions League and the Euro. I think he can do a double. Germany can win with Kroos."

Kroos has played 46 times in all competitions for Madrid this season, with only Joselu, Rodrygo and Federico Valverde making more appearances.

The 34-year-old leads Madrid's squad for chances created (85), while he is second for assists (nine) and expected assists (7.6). 

He has attempted 3,257 passes, over 500 more than any of his club-mates, completing 3,083 of them (94.6 per cent).

However, his immediate future is not yet certain, though Ancelotti is not concerned.

"At the moment, we are not worried about what he is going to do, neither am I, nor the club, nor Toni," the Italian added.

"Until June 1, this is a secondary issue. We are now thinking about winning the Champions League."

Madrid now want to make the most of their remaining LaLiga games as they prepare for their showdown with BVB.

"These games are important to maintain the rhythm, the good dynamics, the motivation and the good play. There are two weeks left. Now we'll rest for a few days and next week we'll do some physical work. In the second week we will do tactical work," Ancelotti said.

"For me as a coach, it's the best season. The team has been fantastic, we deservedly won LaLiga. We're on a cloud, but we have to keep going because we haven't played the most important game yet.

"This team has a lot of talent. Very young people with a lot of quality. It has the opportunity to mark an era in the future, given the value of the youngsters we have."

Phil Neville warned Portland Timbers have "no time for sulking" as the head coach offered an eye-opening appraisal of his side's struggles ahead of their MLS meeting with San Jose Earthquakes.

The Timbers are winless in a club-record nine straight matches after their 2-1 defeat to Seattle Sounders on Saturday.

Portland sit bottom of the Western Conference table and former Inter Miami boss Neville acknowledged the Timbers must improve – and rapidly.

"Massively disappointed, the result in these games is the most important thing," Neville said, looking back at the Seattle loss.

"I have to take full responsibility for this run, in life you get difficult moments and we have to really work hard; make sacrifices – that is the message for the players.

"There's no time for sulking, any criticism that comes our way has to be aimed at me. I select the team, the system, the tactics over the last nine games.

"We've got to be better, but I am absolutely convinced we are going to get this right.

"We've got to go out fighting, the results have to change very quickly. I am under no illusions about that."

The Quakes are just a position above the Timbers but overcame Colorado Rapids 3-2 in their last outing, suggesting to coach Luchi Gonzalez that his side are starting to click into gear.

"We had quite a bit of new additions to the team," he explained. "They're good players and they need time to adapt to this league.

"They're showing more confidence and showing how they can adapt to this league.

"We need to support them. We need to on and off the field know that with more time, this group can compete with anybody in the league."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Portland Timbers – Evander

Evander remains Neville's go-to man, having scored four and assisted three in just eight league appearances this year.

The Brazilian leads the Timbers for goal contributions in MLS this term, and Neville will hope his star man can deliver once more here.

San Jose Earthquakes – Hernan Lopez

Hernan Lopez was one player referenced by Gonzalez as needing time to find comfort in his new surroundings.

The Quakes man did just that on his first MLS start, scoring to overturn a two-goal deficit against Colorado.

MATCH PREDICTION – PORTLAND TIMBERS WIN

Portland are the overwhelming favourites for victory here, going unbeaten in 20 straight home matches against San Jose in all competitions (W16 D4) – dating back to September 2011.

That is the Timbers' second-longest home unbeaten run by one MLS team against another in all competitions, with this a chance to extend that impressive run.

Yet it will be by no means one-way traffic, considering Portland made it a club-record nine straight regular-season matches without a win (D3 L6), including three straight losses, with defeat to Seattle.

San Jose have also won three straight matches in all competitions for the first time in three years, setting this up for an enticing clash.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Portland Timbers win – 55.8%

San Jose Earthquakes win – 19.6%

Draw – 24.6%

Chris Armas called on his Colorado Rapids side to pay back the support of their fans when Vancouver Whitecaps visit Dick's Sporting Goods Park in MLS.

The Rapids fell to a 3-2 reverse at home to San Jose Earthquakes in their last outing, missing the chance to make it four wins in five league games.

Sixth-placed Colorado are one of three teams on 18 points, behind Los Angeles FC and also the Caps in the Western Conference standings, and head coach Armas wants to make home advantage count for this one.

"I'd like to acknowledge our fans once again, they came out in good numbers to support the team, gave us good energy on a rainy night [against San Jose]," Armas said.

"They still came out and supported us. We don't take that lightly.

"We have to do better and we will get back, dust ourselves off. Wednesday becomes really important again, so we'll ramp it up."

The Caps return to action after a 3-0 defeat to Los Angeles FC last time out, leaving them level on points with Colorado.

Vancouver head coach Vanni Sartini will be desperate for a response from his side after slamming their performance against the Rapids.

"I don't want to be misunderstood, it's not out of this world that we lost here," Sartini said of the LAFC defeat.

"You can sometimes lose away. It was the performance in the first half which was actually bad, so that's the thing that makes me a little p***ed off…

"We were losing every battle. We killed ourselves doing things that we never do."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Colorado Rapids – Rafael Navarro

Rafael Navarro has scored in consecutive games for the Rapids for the second time this year (also in April).

The only Rapids player to score in three straight games since the beginning of the 2020 season was Diego Rubio, who did so in August 2022.

Vancouver Whitecaps – Brian White

Brian White became the Caps' top scorer in history last month and leads the club charts for goals once more this season.

The Vancouver forward has five goals in just 10 games this term and will be hoping to continue that run against the Rapids.

MATCH PREDICTION – DRAW

The Whitecaps have lost only one of their last seven visits to Colorado (W3 D3), dating back to 2017. That suggests Sartini will hope to leave Colorado with at least a point.

Vancouver also hold a record of W10 D3 L5 in Wednesday regular-season matches since the beginning of the 2021 season, with the 10 wins in that time more than any other MLS team.

Yet Colorado's loss to San Jose was just the fourth defeat in the last 15 regular-season home games (W5 D6), after losing three home league games in a row last May.

That three-match losing run is the last time Colorado lost consecutive home matches, which Armas will hope to avoid here.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Colorado Rapids win – 44.3%

Vancouver Whitecaps win – 27.5%

Draw – 28.2%

Bertrand Traore's goal gave Villarreal a 1-0 win at Girona on Tuesday that prevented the hosts from reclaiming second spot in LaLiga.

Girona, who have enjoyed a superb campaign, are third with 75 points, trailing Barcelona, who moved a point clear with a 2-0 home win over Real Sociedad on Monday.

Alexander Sorloth and Goncalo Guedes went close for Villarreal in the first half, but Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga was in fine form.

Traore broke the deadlock in the 59th minute after latching on to a superb pass from Guedes, however.

Viktor Tsyhankov, Savio and Artem Dovbyk all went close for Girona, but could not find the back of Filip Jorgensen's net.

Villarreal were reduced to 10 men in the 95th minute after Kiko Femenia was sent off for a second yellow card after a push on Aleix Garcia.

Data Debrief: Rare home loss for Girona

Girona have suffered only their second defeat at Montilivi in LaLiga this season, following a 0-3 loss to Real Madrid in September.

The home side attempted 749 passes in this game, their highest total in a single match in LaLiga this season.

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