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Soccer fans cheer on their World Cup teams at Phoenix watch parties

Friday marks the final day for group stage matches in the FIFA World Cup. Earlier this week, the United States and Mexico men’s national teams played their last games of the round, with both sides needing a win in order to advance to the next round.

On Tuesday, the American Outlaws Phoenix hosted a watch party for the U.S. national team at Walter Station Brew. The group organizes events like these all year round for the men’s and women’s teams.

“That’s better!”

“It’s that sense of national pride that you only get with the Olympics and the World Cup,” said Jacob Phillabaum, executive board member of American Outlaws’ Phoenix chapter. He described a tense atmosphere at the bar, with the U.S. needing a win against Iran to move on to the Round of 16.

“Everyone was confident that we were gonna win,” Phillabaum said. “But once that whistle blew to kick off, I think everyone got a little bit nervous, I think rightfully so. But I think that tells you about how passionate this group and this fanbase is here, and that's kind of the crazy thing is we've had over just about 1200 people over the past three matches here at Walter Station Brewery. And I think everyone has walked away, you know, wanting to come back. I've seen a lot of familiar faces that I saw last Monday against Wales, today against Iran and even Friday where it was a holiday. A lot of people were excited, and we bring the noise and the energy here. Ultimately, it's the passion that everybody else brings for the red, white, and blue.”

The crowd was buzzing through all 90 minutes. Phillabaum and other members of American Outlaws led chants throughout the entire match, breathlessly cheering for their country. That support was rewarded, as the U.S. defeated Iran 1-0 with a memorable goal by Christian Pulisic.

“I think the boys came out, they knew what they had to do,” Phillabaum said. “I mean, one point wasn’t enough, zero points obviously wouldn't have been good enough. Three points was the goal. And I think you could feel it kind of, once that ball hit the back of the net with Pulisic’s goal, it was just like a can of soda just popping off and just like kind of relief. But then like, it's like it's right after you shake that can, right? You shake it, you let some of that pressure release, but you can't open it fully, you can't let it go. And you can kind of feel that tension pop up once again in that second half. And then that final whistle blew and that can lid finally popped off. And that right there really is just like, it gave me goosebumps to know just four short years ago in Russia, this team wasn't even playing.”

The U.S. men’s team, of course, did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Now, they’ll play a knockout-round match against the Netherlands on Saturday.

The next day, another battalion of soccer fans gathered in south Phoenix to cheer on their beloved team.

Local members of Mexico supporter’s group Pancho Villa’s Army hosted their own party for Wednesday’s match against Saudi Arabia. El Tri’s path to qualifying for the next round was a little more complex: they needed a win and some help from another team in their group.

Coronel Guel is the leader of PVA Phoenix. He says a lot of members are not originally from Arizona, making the group a unique bunch to root on Mexico.

“I for one was born in Texas. We've got people born in LA, in Mexico, obviously in Phoenix, in different parts of the country. And everyone's just kind of migrated to Phoenix. And so the cool thing about it is that everybody is just kind of like, collected. It really, really truly means a lot the fact that not only am I representing a fan group, I'm representing my country, I'm representing my family, my ancestors. And when I talk about it, I get choked up, but I can't put words to it,” Guel said.

The group’s percussionists elevate the experience of a PVA watch party.

“We do drums,” he said. “We usually do drums at the games. Anything that we can do to kind of push Mexico forward, whether it's a home field advantage or whatever you wanna call it. Even here we're very spiritual, so we think of it as we’re sending our good vibes, so to speak.”

This result didn’t go as PVA and other fans would have hoped. While Mexico defeated Saudi Arabia 2-1, they were eliminated from the tournament based on a goal differential tiebreaker.

Despite the disappointing end to Mexico’s World Cup run, Guel appreciates the tournament even more for its dramatic, and sometimes heartbreaking, nature.

“You know, at any given moment, even though you lost, let's just say you lost two games, you could still come out on top and advance, right? That's just kind of the cool thing about it, it’s very rewarding, very exciting. Unfortunately it didn't go our way this week. We were very, very close, but, you know, that's just the way it is. We're out, but we're gonna keep pushing Mexico, doesn’t matter. We're going to continue to give it a hundred percent, and we're going forward, ready for 2026,” said Guel.

While the U.S. and Mexico met very different fates in this year’s tournament, both Guel and Phillabaum say they are excited for the 2026 World Cup, which will be jointly hosted by the two nations, along with Canada.

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Nick Sanchez is a senior producer for KJZZ's The Show. He joined the station as an intern during the spring of 2022, where he developed a passion for audio storytelling in the Valley.