On June 11, in Mexico City’s fabled Estadio Azteca, the United States men’s national soccer team tied its Mexican counterpart 1-1 in a tense World Cup qualifying game. There were 87,000 fans in the stadium, and they were living and dying with each advance and retreat of the home team.
There were also, thousands of miles away in the United States, packed into bars across the country, millions more fans experiencing the same swings of emotion—for the same team.
Places like Campeón in New York City, Medio Tiempo Sports Cantina in Oklahoma City, and Spoons Grill and Bar in Orange County, Calif., were filled with green-clad Mexican-American fans, cheering madly for El Tri, as the Mexico national team is nicknamed (short for El Tricolor).
Of course, there were plenty of US fans watching, but the numbers cheering for Mexico were impossible to ignore, and utterly unique in the soccer world. You don’t find Argentines by the millions, filling up bars in Brazil, rooting against their archrival. Ditto for literally any other rivalry in international soccer.
But with roughly 35 million Hispanics of Mexican descent living in the U.S., perhaps these numbers should not come as a surprise. It’s just the way they’ve emerged so energetically in the past decade or so that borders on stunning. Even to one of the driving forces behind the surge: That would be Austin, TX, native Sergio Tristan, the founder of Pancho Villa’s Army (PVA), America’s No. 1 El Tri supporters group, which organizes viewing parties at bars all over the US.
“I was very surprised,” Tristan says of the response he got when he founded PVA in 2013. “I figured if I made five good friends and we traveled the country watching Mexico play it would be a success. I had no idea that Mexican-Americans would be this enthusiastic for a group like PVA.”
Alvaro Vaquero, the Captain—make that Capitan—of the New York City PVA “battalion,” says that while he wasn’t shocked it caught on, “[T]he real challenge to me when initially hearing of PVA was transitioning from a traditionally home and family-oriented event to a watch party, whether it was at bars or restaurants. Growing up, games would be a family get-together. Now we’re out watching with people we’ve just met but share one common passion [with].”
Social media has played a big role in the transformation, says Vaquero. “It’s definitely helped in knitting the culture together. It was through social media that I learned what PVA was all about. I immediately reached out to find out why NYC didn’t have a battalion, and started one up. It’s growing. I’ve met some pretty cool people that I would probably never have met if it hadn’t been for PVA and the watch parties we have.”