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SOCCER

PVA presence packs punch for Mexico-Uruguay Copa America tilt

By - Jun 06, 2016

By Terra Pinckley/For The Sporting Nation


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When an army gets a command to march, they’re expected to follow that command and not ask any questions. When Pancho Villa’s Army marches, there aren’t any expectations. Just loud, cheerful and joyous celebration as a part of the revolutionary fandom they have created.

The Copa America Centenario continued play Sunday when Mexico hosted Uruguay, and in the streets of Glendale, the colors green and red reigned supreme. That is in no small part due to Pancho Villa’s Army, a nationwide group of Mexico fans who will find their way from some of the most unlikely places to make sure they can support their team.


“I came all the way out here from Hawaii. It’s been pretty awesome so far,” Roger Medina, a member of Pancho Villa’s Army said. “I haven’t experienced anything like this.”


Every restaurant within the Westgate Entertainment District had decorations of red and green, but Pancho Villa’s Army made the Mexican restaurant Salt their home base, with a large banner reading Pancho’s Villa’s Army along the side of the building and with hundreds of Mexico fans packed into the restaurant. Popular Mexican music, both past and present, filled the hotspot and provided entertainment not only for the fans within, but for passerbys outside of the restaurant’s patio.


It was clear anyone was welcome within the confines of Salt and Pancho Villa’s Army; even those who were rooting for rival Uruguay found their way into the sea of red and green, a concept that Pancho VIlla’s Army is all too familiar with.


"El Army Del Tri" got its start during the 2011 Gold Cup final between United States and Mexico when a sole Mexico fan found himself in a sea of US fans during Mexico’s historic comeback. The fan looked around for people to celebrate with and couldn’t find anyone, so in order to remedy that, he started a network of fans all across the United States. They call that original fan General Villa, after a Mexican general who rallied his own troops from all over Mexico in the early 1900s.


Pancho VIlla’s Army isn’t just a group of fans spread across the country, they pride themselves on being more than that. Fans, especially soccer fans, are known to be a rambunctious bunch, to the point of aggression, but the army prides themselves on being respectful to all fans, and tries to spread that message of respect at every game they attend.


“This is the best group of fans I’ve ever been around,” Medina said. “I haven’t experienced anything like this. Coming from Hawaii we don’t have a lot of huge sporting events, but I definitely wasn’t expecting this. The culture is great, we don’t get a lot of Mexican culture in Hawaii, I love it.”


Moving through the crowd at Sunday's pregame festivities, it was difficult not to get pulled into the dancing circles created by a group of friends and newly acquainted army members, and their influence spread further than the walls of Salt.


“All the tables I’m working right now are green. There isn’t anyone who isn’t a Mexico fan in sight,” Johnny Rockets server Jeremy Nolan said. “There’s a bit of a language barrier, which can be an issue, but it’s a really neat experience, they’ve broken out in chants and songs several times.”


While there was an official pregame party put on by Bud Light in Westgate, it was arguable overshadowed by the army members found in Salt. A constant stream of people kept coming into Salt, turning it more into a crowded dorm party than a restaurant. Tables, the usual boundaries keeping parties separate, were there for the sole convenience of placing drinks and running into newly made friends rather than keeping people from making new ones.


Some members of the army wore shirts with the location of their chapter, El Paso and San Diego, for example. While they may not be as far as Hawaii, the passion still traveled with these individuals.


“It’s my first [event with the army], and it’s probably the best experience of my life,” San Diego member Fernando Gomez said. “I wasn’t expecting this many people. It’s great to see the passion that people support El Tri (Mexico) with.”


That passion led into a march to University of Phoenix Stadium, filled with chants supporting Mexico and flags waving with pride. The army embraced every second of it, all the way to the moment whemn they reached the gates.


The army invasion started to really pick up around 11 am and continued all the way until long after the game, in which Mexico secured the 3-1 win over Uruguay.


Pancho Villa’s Army will move on to Pasadena for their next match, but their mark was left not only on Salt, but the city of Glendale as well, and the city should receive them with open arms any time they feel the need to march back into the entertainment district.

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