Getting their kicks

5 Houston pro athletes who are avid soccer fans

James Harden has rubbed shoulders with biggest stars in soccer. Houston Rockets/Facebook

There may be no bigger show of respect for a pro athlete than admiration from their counterparts in other sports. A big sign that soccer has become more mainstream in the United States is just that.

Current and former pro athletes with Houston ties are no strangers to “the beautiful game.” Here are five:

1. James Harden

The face of the Houston Rockets has rubbed shoulders with biggest stars in soccer, not to mention the most expensive.

Neymar, as an example, made headlines this summer by becoming the most expensive transfer in soccer after a €222 million move from Spanish giants FC Barcelona to France’s Paris Saint-Germain. The flamboyant Brazilian loves to vacation stateside during the European soccer offseason, which coincidentally matches up with the NBA’s, and a 2015 trip to Vegas saw him catch a party with Harden and another Rocket, Trevor Ariza.

In 2016, “The Beard” took a trip to the iconic Old Trafford (the home of Manchester United) to witness the debut of Paul Pogba at the start of the 2016-17 season. Harden also received a visit from 2002 FIFA World Cup Winner Kaká, who was in Houston with his team Orlando City, during the 2017 NBA Playoffs.

2. Hakeem Olajuwon

Born in soccer crazy Nigeria, “The Dream” grew up playing “the beautiful game.” The basketball Hall of Famer has even been quoted as saying soccer gave him “a natural advantage over many of the American-born players” in basketball.

The two-time NBA Finals MVP also grew up a fan of English giant Liverpool F.C., and his footwork would lead you to believe he might’ve had a chance to don a different red shirt. The city of Houston is glad he chose basketball.

3. Jose Altuve

Born in Venezuela, it’s pretty safe to assume Jose Altuve would run into some of that South American soccer passion. The MLB standout even practices the sport in the offseason to keep himself in shape.

Altuve’s favorite club? None other than the New York Yankees of the soccer world, Real Madrid.

4. Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck doesn’t ply his trade full-time in Houston (unless he’s in town with the visiting Indianapolis Colts) but he spent the latter part of his youth as a quarterback for Stratford High School. This is because his father, former Oilers QB Oliver Luck, was the president of the Houston Dynamo at the time.

Naturally, Andrew became a fan of the Dynamo and has stopped to visit his favorite club on more than one occasion.

5. J.J. Watt

Houston’s beloved football icon and humanitarian has shown a soft side for soccer. In 2015 he was present in London to witness Chelsea F.C. clinch their fourth Premier League at Stamford Bridge.

In Houston, he’s taken of advantage of visits from Argentinian stars like FC Barcelona’s Leo Messi and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero. He even took part of a skills challenge with the City player during their 2017 U.S. tour.

But what about playing the game? Watt’s done that, too.

The Texans defensive end took part in practice with a local girls soccer team as part of a commercial for one of his sponsors. To top off his love for soccer, Watt is dating Houston Dash forward Kealia Ohai.

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Houston drops first of three

Mariners heat up late to take series opener over Astros

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

With the playoffs just a little over a week away, the Astros started their last week of regular-season games in Seattle against the Mariners. A couple of wins against them would secure Houston's spot as the AL West's second playoff participant, with Oakland all but having locked up the first spot sitting six games in front of Houston with seven left to play. Here is a quick rundown of the opener from T-Mobile Park:

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 1.

Record: 27-27, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Marco Gonzalez (7-2, 3.06 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 4.24 ERA).

Bitter end to an impressive start for McCullers Jr.

Both starting pitchers would take a scoreless deep late into Monday night's game. While the Astros were trying to figure out Marco Gonzalez, Lance McCullers Jr. was repeating the success of his last start, a seven-inning two-hit start against the Rangers.

McCullers Jr. allowed a two-out walk in the bottom of the first inning, then proceeded to retire the next fourteen batters before a one-out double in the bottom of the sixth gave the Mariners their first hit of the night. He would go on to finish the sixth before things unraveled in the seventh.

A leadoff walk would result in a run after an error by Jose Altuve left runners on first and second, setting up an RBI-double to give the Mariners the first run of the night and a 1-0 lead. McCullers Jr. looked like he was going to cap off his night by stranding the runners on second and third after back-to-back strikeouts, but before he could get the last out of the inning allowed a three-run home run to blow the game open at 4-0. His final line: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 102 P.

Mariners take the opener

Despite getting several hits against him along the way, Houston could not get anything substantial going against Gonzalez, who would shutout the Astros over eight innings of work. After Enoli Paredes finished the seventh, Brandon Bielak would take over out of Houston's bullpen for the bottom of the eighth.

He struggled mightily, loading the bases with no outs, including a hit batter before allowing a two-RBI single to extend Seattle's lead to 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the top of the ninth, getting a two-out double by Carlos Correa, who would score on an RBI-single by Josh Reddick. That would be too little, too late as the 6-1 score would go final as the Mariners took the opener, keeping the Astros' magic number at two.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will be another 8:10 PM Central start on Tuesday. On the mound will be Framber Valdez (4-3, 3.82 ERA) for the Astros and Ljay Newsome (0-1, 6.35 ERA) for the Mariners.

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