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SOCCER

They Want You for Pancho Villa's Army

By Jose Romero - Jul 08, 2015

PHOENIX -- Win or lose, thick and thin, good and bad, from coach to coach, every game (with or without Carlos Vela), they are there. Rolling deep and still about that "No Era Penal."

Because it wasn't. See Mexico vs. Holland, 2014 World Cup.

They will party -- Puro Pinche Party -- and march to Mexico matches in the United States, and be some of the most visible and loud fans of El Tri at any venue. You'll see them and hear them from Chicago to Phoenix to Charlotte, for sure, and likely other places assuming Mexico advances in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. 

But Pancho Villa's Army is more than Mexican Americans and Mexicans in the U.S. coming together to support the Red, White and Green of Mexico's Aztec Warriors of the pitch. It is a collective where anyone can feel welcome, where unity and companionship and advocating for causes is the mission, where a stranger can sit down at the bar with other strangers, be offered a chela or some food and make fast friends. 

No cliques, spinoff groups (except that members who are women are given the heroic title of "Adelitas"), factions or anything of the sort. Fan of El Tri? PVA has a spot for you, whether you want to come to the watch party and just hang out, or become a dues-paying, T-shirt-and-scarf-sporting member. 

"Our goal is to basically be the magnet for anybody that loves El Tri," said Richard Guel, captain of the Phoenix PVA chapter. Guel organizes activities for the membership and coaches soccer, and has traveled to other cities to watch Mexico play and cheer with other cities' chapters. 

"We have a mixture of Mexican citizens and also those born here in the U.S."

**

Not long ago I walked into Native New Yorker, a bar in South Phoenix, and instantly saw the many different colors of Mexico soccer jerseys. Black, red, green, black with neon green, authentic and straight from the pulga. 

There was a big table that was full, and a smaller table where two guys were sitting. I asked if they didn't mind me sharing the table and watching Mexico play a friendly against Costa Rica, and Jesse and Daniel Ruiz welcomed me like they knew me for half my life. 

We hit it off so fast that Guel walked over at halftime and didn't know I was the journalist who'd reached out to him earlier in the week. He thought I was just chillin' with the Ruiz boys. 

Jesse knew his stuff. He's a fan of the European game, too. Daniel offered me food and was proud that he didn't spend big bucks on his black jersey that was almost the real thing. No, he said, 20 bucks at the Rancho Grande shopping center. 

The three of us watched Mexico fall behind 2-0 in the first half, only to roar back and earn a draw, though a win was there for the taking. 

There was drumming going on outside on the patio in the heat. I went outside to check it out, and Guel was there with some younger fans (not bar-legal age, so they had to be elsewhere). They were pounding on drums looking up at the TV. 

When the game was over, people didn't just go their separate ways. There were photos of the occasion to be taken. They included me. I could see why membership is very appeallng. 

**

David Carranza is another leader in the Phoenix PVA chapter. He was born in Mexico and raised in the U.S. and has heard people ask him why he is not a U.S. supporter. 

"Just because I live here, it doesn't mean I have to root for the team, right? Basically why I root for Mexico is my roots," Carranza said. "I grew up in the United States, and to me the Mexican team is how I stay in contact with that Mexican culture. I mean, I have it at home, but when I celebrate a Mexican goal, I'm celebrating with the country. It's a big feeling you get."

Guel, born in Texas, said everyone has a story and their own reasons for picking Mexico over the U.S. His father isn't a soccer fan, he's more about American football. But growing up in the States, every week on the Spanish-language channels he'd see Mexican soccer, and that's how he got hooked on El Tri. 

"I love the sport, and that's kind of what drew me in," he said. 

**

Pancho Villa's Army doesn't compare itself to the American Outlaws, the supporters group associated with the U.S. national team.

"We're just trying to unite anybody that goes for Mexico, to come out and have a good time," Guel said. "We're not trying to compete with anybody, we're not trying to be better than anybody. One of the problems that I see with a lot of the 'hinchas,' the supporters groups, is they try to be like the support group from a different country... they're trying to be something that they're not."

The Phoenix chapter has been around since 2013. There are others in Dallas, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, Kansas City and Orange County, Calif.

Guel noted that in greater Phoenix alone, there are bars and watch parties for football teams every week of the season but also a great many soccer fans, and not just Mexican ones, looking for that atmosphere. The Phoenix PVA chapter also supports having a Major League Soccer franchise in the city, though that is far off from happening if ever.

in Denver, the PVA batallion supports the MLS Colordo Rapids. In Phoenix, pro soccer is struggling to build momentum, but TV ratings for Liga MX matches have been consistently higher than for other sports broadcasts. 

**

Pancho Villa's Army started in Austin, Texas. It keeps growing via word of mouth and social media, and membership is very affordable. Guel and Carranza recall a recent trip to San Antonio for the USA-Mexico match in April, which saw the Americans win 2-0. 

"It was a party," Carranza said.

"It was the experience, and I think that's the most important thing," Guel said.

Native New Yorker was packed and rocking during the World Cup for Mexico games as fans of El Tri discovered last summer that hanging with PVA was the place to be.  

Guel hands out business cards to fans he sees and doesn't know, hoping to recruit. He won't have a hard time finding people to target when Mexico plays in Arizona this Sunday.  

"Everybody really wants to be a part of something bigger, something greater," he said. "Where you're all united."

The pregame party for the Gold Cup in Glendale, Ariz., is Saturday, July 11, the day before the match. It's a pool party at a hotel. In the heat of the desert. The next day, PVA will be in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium, giving it their all for Mexico against Guatemala in the showcase match of the Gold Cup group stage doubleheader. 

PVA's status and reputation are growing. The group has at least 200 tickets for Glendale, working with match promoters to secure a block of seats for the crew in every city where Mexico plays. 

"People see us and say, 'Oh, I didn't know you had a group!' and then it just snowballs," Guel said.  

"I would have been at home watching the game by myself," Carranza said of getting involved with the group. "I'm able to come out, hang out with guys I know that I know will celebrate a goal together instead of just being by myself."

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