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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Davis Mills didn't see much action on Saturday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans played their first preseason game and turned in a winning effort. Here are 11 observations from the victory.

1. The initial and early offense felt scarily familiar to last season. It seemed like vanilla was the emphasis, but a negative play doomed the Texans on each of the Davis Mills led drives. This is an offense in training camp that has overcome bad plays, that wasn’t the case Saturday night.

2. Penalties showed up in force for the Texans. I disagreed with a handful of them, but it is clear there needs to be a little more work on these. It also could be simply the referee emphasis as well. The officials at practice have called offensive pass interference, and Chris Moore got dinged Saturday for that. The team currently doesn’t have the talent to regularly overcome a holding or other offensive penalty.

3. I’m not going to read too much into the first-team offense or the defense. Too many players who will play in games didn’t play in this one. I tend to focus more on individuals than teams in these situations.

4. Jalen Pitre has a nose for the football. It looked like almost every Baylor game out there from his college career. The safety was in on what felt like every play. It will be exciting to watch him assess his game film and build on it. Lovie Smith mentioned how important it was for players to get their first game out of the way. Well, mark that step down for Pitre.

5. Blake Cashman flashed plenty. His athletic deflection on a long-third down throw was a lovely play. He was getting his nose into a lot of the action as well. Cashman has a chance to make this team as linebacker depth. If he can build off the success from Saturday, he will be in a position to make the final roster.

6. Kurt Hinish is a name you may not know just yet. His name is worth learning though. The undrafted defensive tackle from Notre Dame has flashed in camp and he sacked his old teammate Ian Book on Saturday night. Roy Lopez and Maliek Collins are the team’s two defensive tackles, but there is room for someone like Hinish. I don’t believe he would make it to the practice squad.

7. Rookie defensive lineman Thomas Booker had some nice plays. He hasn’t stood out much in training camp to this point. It isn’t out of the question he is on the roster bubble, but there’s still time to find his way.

8. Jalen Camp scored a touchdown and did the crane celebration as a nod to teammate John Metchie who is dealing with cancer. Camp had a few flashes in training camp, but it isn’t consistent. There is an opportunity for a couple of wideouts, but nobody has separated to the point where I can say they have for sure earned the spots on the depth chart.

9. Dameon Pierce wowed on Saturday. It was great to watch the rookie rip off big physical runs. Pierce will be a factor for the Texans in 2022. The consistency of his work will determine how much of a factor. He is exciting, more than Marlon Mack, and if the team starts to trust him more, he has the talent to make it pay off for the Texans.

10. The special teams looks like it might be one of the best aspects of this team. Cam Johnston can absolutely BOOM the ball as a punter and could be one of the best in the league. The coverage on kicks was very good. This is something that will have to be great for the Texans as this is still a team that lives in the margins.

11. I’d guess the second preseason game will look a little closer to what the third preseason game used to look like. A little more from the expected starters would be a welcome sight. I would like to see a little more Davis Mills and a few more of the top players in the game for a stretch and see if Pep Hamilton wants to get a bit more creative.

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