The most popular soccer team in the United States is one that plays against the United States: the Mexican National Team. And Pancho Villa’s Army is its main U.S.-based fan club. Made up of eight “battalions”—chapters with at least 25 members and a home bar—the organization counts its official membership around 300. The unofficial numbers stretch much higher. And that name? It’s a response to a group of U.S. National fans who call themselves Sam’s Army.
- I’ve been labeled by this country for my entire life, and so have a lot of people. At school, I was labeled as a greasy Mexican, a spic, a wetback. We take that label and make it into a positive: Yeah, I am a Mexican American, and that’s a good thing.
- The Mexican team can easily fill a stadium of 70,000 people on two weeks’ notice. There’s no denying, in my opinion, that it’s the most popular team in the U.S., regardless of sport.
- The world stops for a Mexican National Team game. We leave work at noon, start cooking the food, and it’s a party. You’ve got mariachis, folklórico dancers, a lot of Mexican food, and Mexican music.
- In Mexico, the rivalry with the U.S. team is politically charged. There’s a lot of animosity toward the U.S. and some of their political decisions that have affected Mexico. For us in the U.S., it’s a celebration of our culture. It’s a way to express that frustration from when we were younger and were labeled negatively.
- Our group will start diminishing. My generation never believed we could play for the U.S. If Mexican American kids really believe they can make the U.S. team, the U.S. will convert a ton of Mexican Americans to U.S. fans. And I’m fine with that.
—Sergio Tristan, 32, attorney, founder of Pancho Villa’s Army (as told to Ryan O’Hanlon)