Fire-Red Bulls Preview

The Associated Press

With three games left and a playoff berth in sight, the New York Red Bulls surprisingly decided to replace the general manager who helped build the team into a contender.

New York plays its first match of the post-Erik Soler era when it hosts the Chicago Fire in an Eastern Conference showdown Saturday.

The Red Bulls (15-8-8) and Fire (16-10-5) trail East-leading Sporting Kansas City by five points. Saturday's winner will have the upper hand in the quest for a top-three spot in the conference to avoid having to qualify for the playoffs as a wild card.

New York, though, has been dealing with a front-office shakeup, as the team fired Soler after two-plus seasons and replaced him with Jerome de Bontin on Tuesday.

Soler, who signed Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez, acquired Sebastien Le Toux from Vancouver on July 13 and brought in Tim Cahill on July 27, will remain with the club as an internal advisor. The team's official release gave no reason for the change.

The move came three days after the Red Bulls beat Toronto 4-1, as Henry had a goal and three assists and Kenny Cooper scored twice.

"When you've got Thierry finishing goals like that and the boys working hard, it makes it worth it," Cahill said. "We're going good and there's a lot more to come, so we'll see if we can put ourselves in the right frame of mind for the playoffs if we can seal it in the next couple games."

New York is 2-1-3 in its last six.

"With the league so tight, it's a big win," coach Hans Backe said. "Hopefully with three games to go we can pick up some more wins and be top three."

Le Toux assisted on Henry's goal to beat the Fire 1-0 in the most recent meeting July 18. This time, Chicago will be trying to avoid a third straight loss.

The Fire won seven of eight from Aug. 4-Sept. 22, but a 2-0 loss to Kansas City on Sept. 28 and a 3-1 home defeat to Philadelphia on Wednesday leaves them feeling a bit more desperate heading into the crucial matchup.

"(Wednesday's) game was a little bit stupid to lose, because (Saturday) we (play) a very tough team (in New York)," forward Sherjill MacDonald told the team's official website. "It was a perfect opportunity to win, but, you know, sometimes you have those games that nothing comes."

Dominic Oduro scored for Chicago, which is looking to return to the postseason after a two-year hiatus.

"Maybe it's good that we know we are not in the playoffs yet," defender Arne Friedrich said. "We have to work hard and we have to defend first because in the end, good defense wins. We played well for the first couple of months and now we're getting lazy. If we continue to play like this, we have no chance to get into the playoffs."

Patrick Nyarko scored and added an assist in a 3-1 win over New York on June 17. Dax McCarty scored for the Red Bulls, 2-0-1 in the last three home meetings with the Fire.

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