June 27, 2018 // Arizona Republic // Atreya Verma
At the Native Grill and Wings in Laveen, where Pancho Villa’s Army had established its home base for all Mexico games, nearly 200 El Tri fans turned their attention to the Germany-South Korea game after Mexico fell behind 3-0 in the 74th minute against Sweden.
The TVs were quickly switched over to Fox Sports 1, and every chance the South Koreans created in the offensive third was met with echoing “KOREA” chants.
Finally, in the 92nd minute, a deflected ball off a corner kick made its way into the back of the net and the bar erupted in cheers. Adrian Zarata, who helped organize the event, found his life-size version of Pistol Pete’s hat and marched around the celebrations screaming into his megaphone.
For Mexico fans who had made their way to Laveen as early as 6 a.m., it was simply about making sure El Tri advanced. Many of the fans had taken the day off – some even called in sick – to ensure they could watch the match with Pancho Villa’s Army.
“I’m sick, man. I’m very sick,” Carlos Alfaro said with a wry smile while watching the match.
Amid the celebration, local businesses have realized that Pancho Villa’s Army’s reach into the soccer fanbase is expansive in the Phoenix area and they are trying to capitalize. Phoenix Rising FC community relations representative Heber Valenzuela was on hand for the festivities to promote the growing Rising club.
“It’s important for us to connect with the community. We are privileged to be in a community that is very diverse,” Valenzuela said. “One of our goals is to have a club that is for the people, therefore we have to go out there and build relationships through watch parties and events.”
Valenzuela said the club has been working with PVA for almost four years, since the last World Cup. Back then, the Rising were known as Arizona United but the relationship has endured. As the Rising continue to advance their bid to become the next MLS expansion team, it will be crucial to cultivate the passion of El Tri fans.
Shawn Goodwin, a representative from Budweiser, was on hand to help promote a new beer called Estrella Jalisco into the local market. The company has a partnership with the national branch of PVA.
Estrella Jalisco has been a big success in the Los Angeles market and was introduced to Cardinals fans this past football season at University of Phoenix Stadium, according to Goodwin. He brought T-shirts, koozies and mugs with him to give away to the soccer-hungry fan base.
The crowd on hand was not the biggest PVA has organized since the start of the 2018 World Cup as the opening-match upset against Germany ended with an overcapacity building. The local fire department was called to settle some raucous fans that had set off smoke bombs to celebrate that win.
On Wednesday, Mexico lost but fans celebrated with the same fervor. In the Round of 16, El Tri will play Brazil, the first-place finisher in Group E. That game will be Monday at 7 a.m. (Arizona time).
Zarate, a captain in PVA, isn’t afraid of the talented Brazilian side.
“We want Brazil,” he yelled before diving into a crowd of fans celebrating next to the bar.