HARRIS COUNTY – HOUSTON SPORTS AUTHORITY INSIDER
Canetti ready for challenge of bringing World Cup to Houston
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Chris Canetti grew up playing baseball in a soccer town.
While kids down the street were flocking to the pitch, he was more comfortable with a bat and a glove in his hands. He starred at first base in college and his first job after graduating was with Seattle and Colorado’s Double-A affiliate in New Haven, Conn., where, after a few years, became the youngest general manager in baseball at 26.
Soccer was still just another sport until 2000 when Canetti was hired by the then-New York MetroStars. And, while he had seen youth, high school and college soccer, he didn’t watch his first professional soccer match until his first day with the job.
Now, after 13 seasons with the Houston Dynamo, Canetti is trading his job as President of the Dynamo and Houston Dash for a prominent seat in international soccer by joining the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority as the President of the Houston World Cup Bid Committee.
He has mixed emotions. “I’ve been with the Dynamo since its inception and it’s been a major part of my life, so I’m sad to be moving on from that wonderful organization and that part of my life and the terrific memories it’s given me,’’ he said.
“But when you look beyond that, I’m excited about this amazing opportunity to come be a part of the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority and be part of the great team that’s going to lead the efforts in trying to bring the 2026 World Cup to Houston.’’
Canetti, who officially joins the Houston Sports Authority in January, was the longest tenured MLS team president with 13 years in that position and is a perfect fit for his new role.
In addition to overseeing seven trophy runs, including four MLS Conference titles, two MLS Cup titles and one US Open Cup title, Canetti led the effort to bring women’s professional soccer to the city in 2014 with the addition of the Houston Dash to the National Women’s Soccer League. He also oversaw the development and opening of BBVA Compass Stadium and played a lead role in bringing international teams and events to the city including having Manchester United play in the 2010 MLS All-Star game at Reliant Stadium (now NRG), a game that drew the fifth-largest All-Star game attendance at the time.
Two decades ago, Houston was a sleeping giant in the soccer world. Last week’s decision by Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Chairman of the Board J. Kent Friedman and CEO Janis Burke to hire Canetti to head the bid committee underscores Houston’s place in soccer and is a huge step in the bid to become one of 10 U.S. host cities for the 2026 World Cup.
The city hosted the #United2026 bid team last winter and is one of 17 American cities in the running for 10 spots.
Canada and Mexico have already chosen three host cities each – Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey. Houston is on the American list that includes New York, Washington DC, Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Boston, Cincinnati, Nashville, Atlanta, Orlando, Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Kansas City and Baltimore.
“I started to notice as we were going to events with national and international attendees how many relationships Chris has built over the years and his relationships go way deeper than anyone else’s,’’ Burke said. “I saw how respected he was.
“…Chris has great experience in this space and will be instrumental in our World Cup bid efforts. Although our region won a spot on the final bid submission that was sent in to FIFA, there is still much work ahead of us to guarantee that we make the cut from the 17 U. S. cities currently listed down to 10.’’
With 5.1 billion soccer fans worldwide, television coverage and a month of games and events at each host site, the estimated economic impact is $350-$450 million per city.
“I think it’s an amazing vision by Kenny and Janis to create a position like this and to bring someone along like me with the experience and background and network that I have, so hopefully I can be an important piece to the team here in putting Houston in a fantastic position to be awarded a World Cup,’’ Canetti said.
The decisions will be made in two years and Canetti will oversee Houston’s push.
“We know we have what it takes as a city to host the World Cup successfully, so we need to tell that story to the people outside of our city and let them see who we are and what we have so they can make the right decision and bring the World Cup to Houston,’’ he said.
“The other key piece to this is galvanizing the community and working with all the leadership throughout the community so we can come together with a real unified bid for this World Cup effort.”
In slightly less than two decades, Houston has become a major player on the national sports scene, hosting two Super Bowls, two Final Fours and three NCAA Men’s Basketball Regionals. Coming up, the city will host the 2023 Men’s Final Four, a 2020 NCAA Men’s Regional and U.S. Women’s (golf) Open and the 2024 College Football Playoff.
“There have been numerous big events here during my time - the Super Bowl and the Final Four were among the elite and amongst the biggest and the best,’’ he said. “But if we’re able to make this World Cup happen, it’s going to be bigger than anything anyone’s ever seen.
“That’s what is hard for people to understand and part of the story we have to tell. Having the World Cup here in 2026 will be like having multiple Super Bowls in the city in the course of a month.’’