by Ryan Bailey

The local chapter of Pancho Villa’s Army, the Mexican National Team fan group, is excited for the arrival of MLS.

CHARLOTTE — Few fans in soccer are as passionate as those who follow the Mexican National Team. Nowhere was this more evident than last summer’s Gold Cup, when El Tri’s loyal followers packed Bank of America Stadium for a dramatic 3-2 victory over Martinique. The victory spurred Gerardo Martino’s side to win the tournament outright.

“Mexico supporters are fervent admirers of their national team, both at home and in the U.S.,” said Martino in February, prior to a friendly against the Czech Republic in Charlotte that was postponed due to Coronavirus. “They always accompany us and do so in great numbers.”

Mexico’s national team supporters will also play a significant role in the atmosphere at Charlotte MLS home games, thanks to the presence of the local chapter of Pancho Villa’s Army.

Consisting of over 5,000 fans and 32 chapters (known as “battalions”), Pancho Villa’s Army is the Mexican National team’s biggest fan group in the U.S.

Named for a Mexican Revolutionary general renowned for uniting his people, Pancho Villa’s Army organizes watch parties and attends national team matches across the nation. They are also organizing a trip to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, subject to the team’s inevitable qualification from the CONCACAF region.

The local battalion was established in Salisbury in 2017, and is led by its capitan Chico Sanchez.

“I was extremely happy when Charlotte’s MLS team was announced,” says Sanchez. “I have lived in North Carolina for 32 years and I never thought we would ever have an MLS team here. To be honest, I thought we would have had an MLB team before an MLS team!”

Sanchez, who is an ardent fan of Liga MX giant Pumas UNAM, believes the arrival of MLS will inspire far greater appreciation for the domestic game among Hispanic communities.

“Right now, most of our members just follow the Mexican players that play in MLS,” says Sanchez. “They are more Liga MX fans, but now that we have a home team, they will have a much bigger reason to follow MLS.”

According to the most recent census data, Mecklenburg County’s Hispanic population has increased by 33 percent in the past decade. The members of Pancho Villa’s Army are hopeful for a roster that reflects this changing demographic.

“I really hope we sign a Mexican player to the team, and would love to at least have some Latino players” says Sanchez. “It really doesn’t have to be a big name, but having a Latino player would have a huge impact within our Hispanic communities.”

Pancho Villa’s Army was present and in full voice when MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced Charlotte’s team in December—and it’s clear the Battalion will be more than ready to back the club when MLS kicks off in Charlotte.