Chris Canetti was a baseball player who grew up in a soccer town. So, yes, he knew a lot about youth, high school and college soccer when he took a job with New York’s Major League Soccer team in 2000.
He just didn’t see his first professional soccer game until his first day on that job.
Just a year short of two decades later, Canetti is stepping down as Houston Dynamo and Dash President to join the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority as the President of the Houston World Cup Bid Committee.
In a joint statement Friday, the HCHSA and the Dynamo announced that Canetti would step down from his position with the Dynamo on December 31 and begin his new role January 1, 2019. He has been with the Dynamo since its inception in 2006 and is the longest tenured MLS team president with 13 years in his position.
In addition to overseeing seven trophy runs, including four MLS Conference titles, two MLS Cup titles and one US Open Cup title, he led the effort to bring women’s professional soccer to the city in 2014 with the addition of the Houston Dash to the National Women’s Soccer League. He also oversaw the development and opening of BBVA Compass Stadium and played a lead role in bringing Manchester United to play in the 2010 MLS All-Star game at Reliant Stadium (now NRG). That game drew the fifth-largest All-Star game attendance at the time.
“Obviously this is a day when I’m filled with mixed emotions,’’ Canetti said. “I’ve been with the Dynamo 13 years, since its inception and it’s been a major part of my life, so I’m sad to be moving on from that wonderful organization and that part of my life and the terrific memories its given me.
But when you look beyond that, I’m excited about this amazing opportunity to come be a part of the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority and be part of the great team that’s going to lead the efforts in trying to bring the 2026 World Cup to Houston.’’
Canetti will work under the leadership of HCHSA CEO Janis Burke, who, along with HCHSA Chairman of the Board J. Kent Friedman, made the decision to bring Canetti on board.
“I started to notice as we were going to events with national and international attendees how many relationships Chris has built over the years and his relationships go way deeper than anyone else’s. I saw how respected he was.’’
The decision is a big step in Houston’s bid to become one of 10 U.S. host cities for the 2026 World Cup. The city hosted the United2026 bid team last winter and is one of 17 American cities in the running for 10 spots. Canada and Mexico have already chosen their three cities.
“I think it’s an amazing vision by Kenny and Janis to create a position like this and to bring someone along like me with the experience and background and network that I have, so hopefully I can be an important piece to the team here in putting Houston in a fantastic position for Houston to be awarded a World Cup,’’ Canetti said.
He sees two major pieces to Houston’s push.
“Number one we know we have what it takes as a city to host the World Cup successfully, so we need to tell that story to the people outside of our city and let them see who we are and what we have so they can make the right decision and bring the World Cup to Houston,’’ he said.
“The other key piece to this is galvanizing the community and working with all the leadership throughout the community so we can come together with a real unified bid for this World Cup effort.”
Houston has become a major player on the national sports since the last 18 years, hosting two Super Bowls, two Final Fours and three NCAA Men’s Basketball Regionals. The city will also host the 2023 Men’s Final Four, a 2020 NCAA Men’s Regional and U.S. Women’s (golf) Open and the 2024 College Football Playoff.
“There have been numerous big events here during my time – the Super Bowl and the Final Four were among the elite and amongst the biggest and the best,’’ he said. “But if we’re able to make this World Cup happen, it’s going to be bigger than anything anyone’s ever seen.
That’s what is hard for people to understand and part of the story we have to tell. Having the World Cup here in 2026 will be like having multiple Super Bowls in the city in the course of a month.’’