Mexico’s national soccer team will go toe-to-toe with Peru’s national team this Wednesday at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. The match is only a friendly and won’t feature some big names (Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez isn’t on the roster, for instance) but fans of both teams, especially El Tri fans, will be there to cheer on many of their favorite players.
Undoubtedly, there are many fans of Mexico’s national team in the USA (check the attendance numbers of the USA/Mexico 2011 Gold Cup final in Pasadena if you don’t believe me) but there’s no supporter group that unifies them in any way. This is where Pancho Villa’s Army comes in.
Sergio Tristán of Austin, TX founded Pancho Villa’s Army late last year. He came up with the idea of creating a supporter’s group for the Mexican national team after numerous conversations with Greg Lalas (brother of Alexi Lalas) during his time as a writer for Goal.com.
“I kept telling him ‘I think a Mexican national supporter group would be great,’” he says. “When you go to the stadiums, it’s awesome but, I think it could be even more awesome if you’re there with a group of fans who have one clear goal, which is to party and have a good time and coordinate cheers and chants, stuff like that.”
Tristán and his sister soft-launched PVA last November with the encouragement and advice of Lalas, who is familiar with both the US Soccer Federation and the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol Asociación. “He informed me on how to go about it in order to get what I want,” he explains, “which is more access to the players, more access to games, and more benefits for people who hang out with us.”
PVA held its official launch in January to coincide with the first week of Liga MX’s Clausura 2013. The group also provides English-language coverage of Mexico’s major league including a U.S. TV schedule, game previews and re-caps, and more. The group’s current goal is to have a section at September’s World Cup qualifier at Columbus, OH between the US and Mexican teams. Tristán and the PVA are also working on launching TV watch parties in major cities throughout the country his summer for the Confederations Cup tournament – not only as a lead-in to the qualifier, but also as a way of establishing a group large enough to travel to Brazil next summer for the World Cup.
The location for September’s game was an influential factor in naming Pancho Villa’s Army. “The US takes us to Columbus, Ohio every time for World Cup qualifying,” explains Tristán, “and they want to take us there in the most winter-y conditions as possible. Through my own reading when I was younger, I remembered that Pancho Villa invaded Columbus, New Mexico. Now, I know Columbus, New Mexico is pretty far from Columbus, Ohio but the parallel is there. Pancho Villa’s Army is going to invade Columbus, Ohio with as many people as possible to support the Mexican national team.”
Tristán grew up with soccer and spent many years as a youth player for the Austin Capitals, the Texas Longhorns of Houston, and the Dallas Texans. He was denied a spot on the US youth national team as a U-14 player by a coach who claimed he was too small for the team. “He was right,” admits Tristán, “but he wouldn’t look past my size and look at my skill. That kind of turned me away from the US soccer team, which I was a big fan of in ‘94. I was all riled up about the ‘94 World Cup.”
A larger, more important goal Tristán has for PVA is to strengthen and develop Hispanic youth soccer in the US. The US system has many barriers and weaknesses that he would like to raise awareness of and hopefully change in some way, especially financial barriers. “As a young Hispanic kid growing up in the US,” he explains, “the opportunities for me to play soccer were very few because we just didn’t have the money to do the pay-for- play. I was fortunate enough that I was good enough were scouts saw me and I was given scholarships to different clubs to play for them, but that’s not always an option for a lot of kids.”