Getting their kicks
5 Houston pro athletes who are avid soccer fans
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.
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.