A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County - Houston Sports Authority: Soccer is growing

The U.S., Canada and Mexico are teaming up for the 2026 World Cup. Courtesy photo

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While most of you spent the week debating quarterbacks, American League MVP or the latest college football poll, a dozen or so square blocks of downtown Houston was focused on just one thing -- soccer.

Specifically taking the game to the next level. Well, make that levels.

Over at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston Dynamo president Chris Canetti was bouncing from interview to interview in preparation for Tuesday night’s sold-out Western Conference Championship match at home against the Seattle Sounders.

This is his team’s seventh trip to the conference finals in 12 seasons and the first in three years and, no, he hasn’t tired of chatting about the Dynamo’s resurgence. Or about the chance to win a third MLS Cup title.

Meanwhile, a quarter of a mile to the west, representatives from 32 cities and officials from the United Bid Committee were meeting to discuss concepts and roles for an unprecedented three-country bid for the 2026 World Cup.

United Bid communications director Brian Reich said they came into the four days of meetings hoping to come up with one solid concept for the bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico. Instead, they’ve come up with multiple concepts every day and serious momentum for a bid that is due next spring.

“We’ve actually created a problem for ourselves,’’ he said. “We have great concepts, any of which could be transformative in the context of an event like this and we have to figure out how to put it together in a short period of time.’’

Yes, soccer is exploding in H-town. Again.

A decade ago, Canetti remembers a packed crowd rocking

Robertson Stadium to watch the Dynamo knock off the then-Kansas City Wizards.

“There’s no doubt no doubt that evening was a springboard to who we are as a brand,’’ said Canetti of the win that eventually led to a second consecutive MLS title. “It defined us.

“This is a chance for us to do that again.”

The Western Conference matchup sold out of reserved seats last Friday and sold out of standing room only tickets earlier this week.

“It’s going to be a great evening here for soccer and sports fans in the city,’’ Canetti said, “just like it was across the way at Minute Maid during the Astros playoff run.’’

“I think the Astros created a lot of positive energy around the city and around sports so there’s no question that some momentum built up around their magical World Series run, but I would also say we’ve created our own energy with our own success, bringing back the excitement that existed with the Dynamo for so many of our early years.’’

The Dynamo won back-to-back titles in their first two years (2006, 2007) and were in the finals again in 2011 and 2012, but lost to the Los Angeles Galaxy both times. Then, after three hard years, they’re back in the conference finals.

“The place will be rocking,’’ Canetti said. “It will be another moment in our brief history that helps us grow and helps us build.’’

Canetti has seen a steady growth in soccer fans over the years, noting the current base is a much wider group of fans, including Houstonians who don’t know soccer, but love the Dynamo. He sees even more room to expand the base, including drawing in international fans of other teams who move to Houston.

“Over time, we want them to love the Dynamo too,’’ he said.

And, now that the team has been here more than a decade, parents are beginning to pass their passion onto their children.

“I always like to explain it I grew up in Connecticut and I’m a New York Yankees fan,’’ he said. “My grandfather was a Yankees fan, my father was a Yankees fan and they taught me to be a Yankees fan unknowingly. They bought me Yankees caps and we watched Yankees game together on TV and went to Yankees games. So I was molded to be a Yankees fan.’’

It has happened with the Astros and Rockets, he said, so why not the Dynamo?

“Soccer is the fastest growing game in this country, Major League Soccer is the fastest growing league with enormous upside,’’ Canetti said. “When you look at the demographic in this country, it lines up perfect for soccer. When you look at amount of participants on youth and adult level, it’s enormous.’’

That same growth is one of the major reasons the United bid -- #2026United – appears so strong. Reich said FIFA wants to grow the soccer fan base by a billion people over the next decade and a lot of that growth will come from North America.

“The whole soccer global community benefits, in our view, from a United bid,’’ he said. “There’s great growth and engagement in all three countries.’’

The U.S. is now three decades removed from hosting an impressive 1994 World Cup, which still holds the World Cup record for most tickets sold. Mexico has a 75-year legacy of passionate soccer fans and Canada is an emerging soccer nation. If successful, the United bid calls for the U.S. to host 60 of the 80 games, with Canada and Mexico hosting 10 each.

Only 12-16 of the cities meeting here will host games, but all 32 could be involved. Those not hosting games could be home to  training facilities and base camps, for example.

“We want to highlight what makes each of these potential host cities such a powerful, exciting contributor to the United bid as a whole,’’ Reich said.

Organizers chose Houston, one of the 32 cities, to host the meetings after Hurricane Harvey. Reich said it has been the perfect site. Not only is it centrally located for the other cities, but it accommodated all their needs with downtown meeting facilities and hotels and restaurants within walking distance.

“It’s a city a lot of people haven’t seen,’’ he said. “They’re looking out and seeing Minute Maid (Park),  seeing BBVA just off the balcony of the hotel kind of thing and they think of the city as a sports entity. It offered a lot of inspiration for folks.’’

As have those meetings. Reich said all the cities have taken ideas to the next level with their innovative thoughts, sharing them with each other in meetings and networking. The organizers have to spend the next month refining them for the rough draft of the United bid, then, after a few more tweaks, they will submit the final draft in March.

“It’s a truly united bid,’’ Reich said, “which is the power of soccer. It transcends politics and cultural differences . . .It’s not just about 30 days in June and July of 2026. It’s about the next eight years if we get the chance to host and about the legacy we leave behind.’’

And the sport itself.

“If we’re going to build a sport, if you look at the diversity that exists across these three countries,’’ Reich said, “soccer is one of those things that can legitimately unite people.’’

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It's Draft SZN! Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

On Thursday June 22, the NBA will hold their annual draft. With the Rockets owning the number four overall pick, you'd think things would be looking up for them. However, in a draft where the top three players are all expected to be immediate impact guys, the drop begins where the Rockets are selecting. Armed with some young talent, cap space, and a new head coach, the Rockets are looked at as a team on the rise. But what will help contribute to that rise?

When you have assets, you have options. There are three main options I see here for the Rockets with number four: keep the pick and select the guy you think will work best moving forward; trade up to select the guy they feel they missed out on that isn't a punk Frenchie who dislikes Houston; or trade the pick for an established star. The other option is trading the pick for a good player and a future pick/s. Let's take a look at the options:

Option 1: Keeping the pick means you're drafting the leftovers. Those leftovers start with Amen Thompson. He's the guy I believe can come in and help sooner rather than later. At 6'7 and 215 pounds, he has an NBA body. His skill set can come in handy because he's played point guard. This team could use a true point guard, but Thompson isn't exactly a traditional point. He has the size of a wing player, which allows him to see over the top of the defense. His outside shooting is abysmal and needs a vast improvement. To me, adjusting to life as a pro without his twin brother Ausar, another good draft prospect himself, will be difficult. Overall, I believe he's the guy to take at four if they decide to stay.

Option 2: Trading up to get Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller may prove to be difficult. Both teams picking ahead of the Rockets have their point guards. Charlotte wants to find Lamelo Ball a running mate and have their eyes rumored to be set on Miller. Portland is trying their best to keep Dame Lillard happy. The Rockets would be best served to trade with either team willing to move down for whatever they offer, provided it's worthwhile. Portland was just in the playoffs the last few years and aren't as far out as some would think. They're the ones I'd eye to trade with. Speaking of Portland and Dame…

Option 3: The Rockets need a point guard and Dame may be looking to get out. Help them start their rebuild and bring Dame to Houston. Or, how about the Jaylen Brown rumors? Fred VanVleet has a player option for next season, then becomes an unrestricted free agent. There are a few options of finding veteran help around the league, especially at the point. Problem is, are any of these team willing to take the Rockets' offers? It'd start with number four, and include other assets as well. This option makes sense if the organization believes the roster, with whatever vet addition they make via trade, is playoff ready.

Option 4: The last option I thought about is to trade the pick for a first rounder in next year's draft and a decent player. I see this as a last resort of sorts. But only if they do not feel comfortable with whatever player they may take. That, and if they want to save cap space for next free agency period. Not having a first rounder next year isn't as bad as one might think. The team will need to make the necessary moves this offseason to ensure that won't be an issue next draft. FOMO is real, especially when a team is rebuilding and can't use one of the best/cheapest forms of acquiring top talent.

I talked with my good friend “TC.” The guy loves basketball and even hips me to a bunch of stuff. He wants them to move up in the draft for Scoot or Miller. While he is a James Harden fan, he doesn't necessarily want him back. He wouldn't mind it, but it's not his first option. I've spoken with a lot of native Houstonians about this. They all want a winner sooner than later, but have different philosophies on how to get there. Personally, I say options two and three are my faves. Trade the pick for help, rookie or vet, and go from there. I guess we'll have to wait three more weeks before we find out. Or will we…

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