A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Houston still in on World Cup soccer bid

Houston remains part of the United bid. Courtesy photo

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Another step for #United2026. A small leap for the City of Houston.

With 89 days left until FIFA chooses a site for the 2026 World Cup, Houston remains in the running as an official Candidate Host City for the United Bid of Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Bid organizers whittled the list of potential Host Cities down to 23 Thursday and will include all of them in the United Bid Book. FIFA’s decision on the host country is expected to be announced June 13.

If United does win the bid, the list of host cities will be trimmed to 16.

Janis Burke, CEO of the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority was thrilled with Houston’s inclusion in those final 23 cities.

“Our community has demonstrated its love for soccer by hosting three world-class Copa America Centenario matches and many successful international soccer matched and we are still riding the excitement of the Houston Dynamo’s playoff run,’’ Burke said. “We have great confidence that we will add the 2026 FIFA World Cup to the list soon.”

Over the last decade, Houston has added soccer to its list of superstar sports. The Dynamo won two MLS Cup titles, made a run at a third last year before falling short and started strong this season. The Dash, under new coach Vera Pauw, begins its season later this month. Soccer is thriving on collegiate and youth levels as well.

The city was on display last November when Houston hosted a four-day idea summit for the unprecedented three-country bid. The summit, which coincided with the Dynamo’s playoff run, included representatives from 32 cities and officials from the United Bid Committee. The group came away with not only multiple potential concepts for the bid, but also a great feel for Houston and the downtown footprint that has been so successful for Super Bowl LI and the 2016 Final Four.

Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey are the international cities on the list. The U.S. has a total of 17 cities. Among the other 16 are Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia and Boston. 

The United Bid is a unique collaboration. Mexico has a 75-year love affair with soccer, while Canada is an emerging soccer nation. And America? It has been three decades since the U.S. hosted the impressive 1994 World Cup, which holds the record for most tickets sold.

“Canada, Mexico and the United States have joined together to deliver a United Bid that offers FIFA and its member associations the power of unity, the promise of certainty, and the potential of extraordinary opportunity,’’ said John Kristick, Executive Director of the United Bid.

“We are confident that the combination of our 23 existing world-class stadiums, 150 existing elite training facilities, and our modern and interconnected transportation network can help FIFA to achieve new records for attendance and revenue which will allow the entire global football community to improve and grow.’’

In November, summit officials noted there was “great growth and engagement” in the three United Bid countries which would benefit the global soccer community.

The bid is a whopping 530 pages and FIFA plans another North American visit sometime in April.

In the meantime, soccer enthusiasts in Houston who want their city included in the final 16 should the #United2026 bid be successful, can make a difference. Turning out to watch Dynamo, Dash and other games, as well as letting their voices be heard on social media can only help.

“Supporting any soccer event in Houston is something everyone can do,’’ said Doug Hall, HCHSA’s vice president of special projects. “It shows the United Bid Committee and FIFA that we’re not just a big city, but we’re a big city that supports soccer – all levels of soccer.’’


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Texans vs. Vikings could have fans in attendance. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Houston Texans say it's time that fans were allowed to cheer on the home team at NRG Stadium. On Thursday, the team announced extensive safety protocols that would put 15,000 fans in the stands for the Week 4 game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 4.

While the Texans are awaiting permission from city and county officials to host a limited number of fans - socially distant and wearing masks – no plans have been announced how much tickets will cost, and who'll have the opportunity to buy them.

You have to love the free enterprise system: hundreds of tickets for the Oct. 4 game already are on sale on secondary market websites. Lower bowl tickets are going for $800 and up. If you don't mind sitting in the nose bleeds, tickets can be had for around $250.

So the question becomes, if you had the chance, would you attend the Texans game in early October? The tickets are big bucks, and there is a whammy – COVID-19. While the rate of COVID-19 infections is on the decline in Houston, the virus remains a major factor in our daily lives, and there's no guarantee that the pandemic won't spike here again.

Here's the rub, at least for me. Of all the sports we have in Houston, a Texans game might be lowest on my wish list of attending in person. Television does NFL games the best. There are dozens of cameras, so when a receiver catches a pass on the sidelines, we get several views, in slow motion even, to see if the receiver's feet were in bounds. We can almost feel the crunch of a quarterback sack. We get highlights of other games. You don't have to sit next to a face painter like David Puddy.

The NFL is a made-for-TV production. Which is, I suspect, part of the reason the Texans rarely open the roof at NRG Stadium. With the roof closed, the field becomes a controlled TV studio, with no worries of weather pranks.

Television doesn't do basketball or baseball nearly as well. Conversely, the experience of attending those games is terrific fun. What beats eating a couple of dogs at an Astros game? Is there even a traditional food at NFL or NBA games?

The Texans promise that strict safety rules will be enforced. And I believe them. Fans will be scattered over the 67,000-seat stadium. I'm not sure how much of a home field advantage that will be. Most of the crowd noise will come from pre-recorded tapes.

Here's one worry. Sure fans will sit apart and socially distanced. But what will happen when the game is over? Will fans file out in orderly, non-contagious single file? I flew Southwest a few weeks ago. The airline makes a big deal – we don't sell the middle seat. Passengers kept their distance during the flight. When the landed, you know how it is, everybody got up and piled into the aisle, shoulder to shoulder for several minutes.

What will happen if some goofball takes off his/her mask during the Texans game? Will there be enough security to handle each case?

Baseball is planning to have some fans attend post-season games at Minute Maid Park next month. UH Cougars, the Dynamo and Dash are playing in front of small crowds. It remains to be seen how safe – or how risky – allowing fans at sports events will be.

Will parents let their kids attend? Is waiting for a vaccine the smart play? If President Trump is right, that could be only a matter of weeks away. If scientists and doctors are right, nestle in for pandemic life another year. Even if scientists do come up with a vaccine, how many Americans will roll up their sleeve? Some believe, in the case of COVID-19, the cure may be worse than the disease. Not me, the moment Dr. Fauci says the vaccine is safe and effective, I'm sprinting to CVS.

The thinnest of silver linings, if ever there was a year worth sitting out, 2020 has been it for Houston sports fans. The Astros are scratching to stay above .500 (their present position), Jose Altuve hasn't had an extra base hit or RBI in almost a month, and Justin Verlander is throwing bullpens on his way to recovery. The Rockets are searching for a new coach, and possibly another team willing to take Russell Westbrook in a trade. The Texans season could go either way, we'll know if a few short weeks.

Why the rush to fill stadiums? The NBA is thriving in a bubble. Why not baseball and football? There's a fine line between safe and sorry.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo already has safety plans for next year, including masks and distancing. That will be interesting. Good luck controlling crowds pushing and shoving for corn dogs and funnel cakes.

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