THE BEAUTIFUL GAME IN H-TOWN

How Houston will handle the World Cup now that the countdown has begun

Lionel "Leo" Messi will be 39 when the Cup comes to Houston. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

How that the excitement of World Cup is over, will soccer fever linger in Houston, or will soccer fade back to a second-tier sport like swimming and gymnastics between Olympics years?

It’s an important question, because as we reported, the World Cup is coming to North America in 2026. Games will be held in 16 cities, including here in Houston.

Argentina’s thrilling, high-scoring (for soccer, anyway) victory over France in the World Cup final should keep soccer fever at high pitch for the next four years. That would be especially true if Argentinean global soccer icon Lionel "Leo" Messi is still playing when he's 39.

When global-minded Houston hosts the World Cup

This town will turn upside down with international tourists and homegrown soccer fanatics paying top dollar — times 10 — for everything from hotel rooms to fajitas to T-shirts to parking.

You think Taylor Swift tickets were hard to get? Wait till the World Cup gets here and secondary market sites like StubHub quote prices that look like national debt ticker in Times Square.

Don’t be surprised if houses on your street suddenly are listed on Airbnb and flying flags from the world over. The World Cup here is going to be big. We’re talking Super Bowl big.

“Hosting the World Cup in 2026 will be another watershed moment for this great soccer city,” Glenn Davis, host of Soccer Matters on ESPN 97.5 FM (7 pm Tuesdays), tells me. Davis is Houston’s go-to guy in the media. He’s been talking soccer on the radio for more than two decades.

“Youth will attend and have these beautiful indelible moments with their parents,” Davis continues, “shared memories that will last a lifetime. This connection can trickle down to the grass roots in so many ways. Equally important is to promote the sport of soccer in our city over the course of the next four years and to realize this is equally important to the economic and exposure gain the city will get.”

Ken gets behind football, er, soccer

I became a soccer fan — well, not so much of a soccer fan as a Houston Dynamo fan — when the Dynamo relocated from San Jose to Houston in 2005. I liked two things about the sport: it involved a ball and it’s easy to understand what’s going on: kick the ball into the goal. I still have no idea what offsides is, though. Frankly, I don’t believe the players or referees know, either. I think the referees feel they must call offsides twice a game. Same deal in hockey.

My kid was a youth soccer player back then, and if I had to endure watching small children play soccer, I might as well watch the pros play at Robertson Stadium. First time I went to a Dynamo game, I saw rat traps next to the concession stands on the main concourse.

The Dynamo really hustled for publicity those first few years. It helped that the Dynamo won the Major League Soccer championship their first two years in Houston.

Houston's Brian Ching: A Dymano — but not a trivia dymano

Brian Ching, the high-scoring star of the team, came on my little AM radio show every week to talk about upcoming games and play trivia against a wide range of opponents.

I recruited children, strippers and porn stars, homeless people — whoever wasn’t busy Friday morning — to compete against him. Ching never won. It took him a while, but he finally caught on that I was giving the answers to his trivia opponents. Now, Ching owns Pitch 25, the soccer-themed restaurant and bar in downtown Houston. The place was packed during World Cup.

When the beautiful game gets ugly

I started going to soccer games when I visited Europe. That’s some crazy stuff. One time, I bought a ticket for the Roma AC vs. Juventus game at Stadio Olimpico in Rome. I got screwed — my seat was in the Juventus fans’ section.

Uh-oh. The section was protected by Plexiglas barriers and guarded by security police with automatic weapons. That didn’t stop Roma fans from throwing chairs and sandwich bags filled with urine over the Plexiglas. I escaped without injury or pee-soaking.

In Nice, fans started a fire in the stands behind the visiting team’s bench.

In The Netherlands, my overnight train to Paris was delayed due to “hooliganism” by fans who didn’t like the outcome of the Ajax vs. Rotterdam game.

The World Cup in Houston won’t turn NRG Stadium into a war zone, but it’s going to be amazing fun. The countdown is on.

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