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Arnold set to boost Houston's bid to host 2026 World Cup

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John Arnold fell in love with soccer when he five, playing on his neighborhood fields in Dallas.

He fell in love with the World Cup watching it on Univision in 1990 and listening to Andres Cantor's now-famous 10-plus seconds, octave-sliding GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAALLLLL call.

But what really hooked him was going to watch Nigeria beat Bulgaria 3-0 in Dallas during the 1994 World Cup. It was the last time the Cup was held in the United States and the first – but hardly the last – time Arnold would feel the excitement of the World's game.

"Even by soccer standards not a marquee matchup but I remember being in the stadium and feeling the electricity; the electricity of the city,'' Arnold said. "It's a sport and a contest that brings together not only neighborhoods within the city. It brings together the globe.''

He wanted to feel that again, so he went to the 1998 World Cup in France. And he kept going - to every World Cup since then.

A quarter of a century later, the Houston billionaire philanthropist has accepted the role of chairman of the Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee and he'll join Bid Committee President Chris Canetti in guiding the city's efforts to become one of the 10 host cities for the 2026 World Cup.

"2022 will be in Qatar,'' Arnold said. "And in 2026 it will come full circle for me with us hosting the World Cup, the World Cup coming to Texas, the World Cup coming to my city – this time Houston.''

Sound confident? He is. The former energy trader who founded of one of the nation's top energy investment companies, retired at the age of 38 to redefine philanthropy through the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is listed 11th on Forbes' list of Top 50 givers. Arnold is strategic in his gifting, focusing not on the usual arts, but rather on areas of national public policy, including criminal justice reform, health care costs, K-12 education, public finance, and public health. Texas Monthly just named the Arnolds to their Top 31 Most Powerful Texans.

So, when he says Houston has everything it takes to add another big event to the area's burgeoning sports resume', believe him.

"Having John Arnold head our bid committee is a terrific step forward in our efforts to bring the World Cup to our community,'' said Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Chairman J. Kent Friedman. "We know our region has what it takes to successfully host World Cup matches, but we will take nothing for granted.

"It is our job to go out and tell our story to get the local support we'll need, put together a world class bid, and show the world what the Greater Houston-Harris County area has to offer."

When the Vanderbilt grad moved to Houston in 1995, there were no major events. "That was a dark decade for Houston sporting infrastructure,'' Arnold said. "We had two professional venues – the Astrodome and the Summit and they were both at the end of their useful life. That decade, Houston did not host one major national sporting event.''

He credits the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority for the turnaround.

"Since 2000, the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority has built four world-class venues (NRG Park, Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center and BBVA Compass Stadium) and has been instrumental in bringing major events to the city,'' Arnold said.

Canetti, who left the job as President of the Houston Dynamo to take his current role with the committee, couldn't think of a better person to chair the committee than Arnold.

"It is an honor and privilege to add John Arnold to our team,'' Canetti said. "Securing Houston as a World Cup site is an important initiative, and to have one of the most influential leaders of our community on board for the process is a tremendous development.''

Both Arnold and Canetti know the bid process will be competitive. Houston is one of 17 cities vying for one of those 10 spots. Canada and Mexico have already designated three cities each for their portion of the World Cup.

"The same reason NFL chose to bring back the Super Bowl so quickly, the same reason the NCAA brought the Final Four back so quickly is why I'm confident in the success of this bid,'' Arnold said. "Houston has exceeded expectations every time it has hosted a major sporting event.''

He pointed to the downtown footprint with fan zones, hotels and easy transportation as positives as well as NRG. "We have a world class facility that is guaranteed to be 72 degrees at kick-off in the summer,'' he said smiling.

Arnold played soccer until a few years ago when, he said, "my knees told me to call it quits." Now, in addition to traveling the globe to watch the World Cup, he can help influence the next chapter in American soccer through the bid committee.

It's come a long way since 1990 when it was really, as he put it, "very much a niche sport in the U.S.''

Four years later, he was sitting at that World Cup match in Dallas.

"FIFA was prescient enough to believe if they introduced soccer to a brooder swath of America, that America would fall for the sport,'' he said.

They were right. And America did. So, did Houston.

"Houston is a city with global presence, Houston is the most diverse big city in the country,'' Arnold said. "That's what soccer is – diverse and global.''

The push starts now. Canetti has been in his role for just over a week; Arnold in his for a day. And the first big international match of the year in Houston is just around the corner – the U.S. Men play Argentina March 26 at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Arnold, Canetti and Houston's bid are just getting started.

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After rallying in the ninth inning in Game 1 to take the pivotal opener of this best-of-three ALWC series, the Astros were in the driver's seat to try and end the series on Wednesday with another win at Target Field. Here is a quick rundown of Game 2:

Final Score: Astros 3, Twins 1.

Series: HOU Wins 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier.

Losing Pitcher: Cody Stashak.

Houston gets the first hit and first run in the fourth

Through the first three innings, neither team could get a hit off of Jose Berrios or Jose Urquidy, though the Twins did load the bases in the bottom of the first on two walks and an error, but Urquidy would strand the runners before getting 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.

Meanwhile, the Astros lineup was retired in order in three perfect innings by Berrios. That changed in the top of the fourth when Houston would get back-to-back two-out walks to set up the first hit of the game, an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.

Dusty Baker makes another early call to the bullpen before Twins tie it up

Urquidy was able to keep the 1-0 lead by working around a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth, the first hit for the Twins. He returned in the fifth, allowing a leadoff single before a strikeout for the first out. Dusty Baker would pull another early hook, like Greinke the day prior, dipping into his bullpen early to end Urquidy's day at just 76 pitches in the fifth. His final line: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 76 P.

Brooks Raley was who Baker called on to face the top of the Twins' lineup. He would walk his first batter, putting runners on first and second, get a strikeout for the second out, then allow an RBI-double to Nelson Cruz that almost scored a second, go-ahead run. Instead, the runner was out at home thanks to a terrific defensive play by Carlos Correa, bulleting the ball to Maldonado at home, who made a great tag to save the run and keep it tied 1-1.

Correa homers, Astros advance to ALDS

After Raley completed the fifth inning for Urquidy, Cristian Javier was the next reliever out to begin the bottom of the sixth. He would toss a 1-2-3 frame, sending the tie game to the seventh. In the top of the seventh, Carlos Correa broke the tie with a long, loud two-out solo home run to center-field, putting the Astros back in front 2-1.

Javier held on to the one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh by working around a leadoff walk, then returned for the eighth. He would get through it scoreless, despite allowing a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz, who would be pinch-ran for by the speedy Byron Buxton. After a strikeout for out number two, Javier would catch Buxton between first and second base in a rundown, getting the big final out of the inning.

Houston added insurance in the top of the ninth, getting two on base before an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, his second of the day to make it 3-1. That left things up to closer Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance of the postseason. He would notch the save, advancing the Astros to the ALDS for their fourth-straight year.

Up Next: The Astros will now have a few days off to travel to the west coast before starting their ALDS with the winner of the A's / White Sox ALWC series. Game 1 of their ALDS will be on Monday, October 5th, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, with start time TBD.

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