June 23, 2018 // Arizona Republic // Atreya Verma
One was Guillermo Ochoa, the Mexican national team goalkeeper who was manning the net in Sochi while the South Koreans peppered shots in his direction.
The other was an Ochoa look-alike at a Pancho Villa’s Army watch party at Native Grill and Wings in Laveen.
Dressed in a full football kit down to the cleats, the man was often raised into the air with a bottle of Modelo in his hand and would take a lap through the crowd as soon as an “O-cho-a” chant broke out.
The event was organized by Pancho Villa’s Army, the largest fan group of the Mexican national team in the United States. Founded in Austin, the group has battalions in almost every major city in the Southwest, including Phoenix.
For Saturday’s game, the bar was filled to near-capacity nearly 45 minutes before kickoff and remained that way until the final whistle signaled a 2-1 win for Mexico.
Among the more than 300 Mexico fans gathered , the Ochoa doppelganger might not have been the most passionate supporter.
Ingrid Leija, 31, knew Native was supposed to open at 7 a.m., an hour before kickoff, so she showed up at 6:20.
“Last match we (got) here at 7:30 a.m., it was full,” Leija said. Not taking any chances, she showed up early with her friends to make sure they got a booth.
Cecilia Gomez, one of the national leaders of Pancho Villa’s Army, estimates the organization has between three and four thousand members and is growing rapidly, having just started a battalion in Louisiana.
PVA’s Phoenix battalion has hosted World Cup parties for Mexico supporters since 2010 but has seen its biggest turnouts this year with casual supporters who simply heard about the event through friends or Facebook also joining in.
PVA even sent supporters from Phoenix to Russia to support the team, according to Adrian Zarate, a PVA captain.
After Mexico upset defending world champion Germany last weekend, some supporters set off smoke bombs inside the bar.
To temper the chaos and ensure everyone was able to still have a good time on Saturday, the owners of Native brought in extra servers and security to man the doors. The end result? A lot of happy El Tri supporters and a packed, but enjoyable bar scene.