CHARLOTTE – Soccer fans are known for traveling far and wide to support their team, but there's no place like home.
"It's going to be awesome," said Antonio Sanchez, a passionate supporter of the Mexican national soccer team who is counting the days until Mexico faces Martinique in Concacaf Gold Cup pool play match at Bank of America Stadium.
The matchups for the June 23 doubleheader were announced Wednesday evening, but fans of Mexico and soccer in general responded even before the details were announced. Prior to the schedule announcement, Bank of America Stadium ticket sales ranked second among the Gold Cup's 17 venues, trailing only Grand Final host Soldier Field in Chicago.
Sanchez thinks Charlotte is second-to-none as a host.
"Now we need a championship game here," Sanchez said.
This time around, Bank of America Stadium will host a pair of matches that lead into the knockout stage of the biennial event, which has expanded from 12 participating nations to 16. In the third and final leg of round-robin play in Group A, Canada faces Cuba at 6 p.m., followed by Mexico and Martinique at 8:30 p.m.
Sanchez and friends will be there. He is the captain of a battalion in Pancho Villa's Army, an expanding Mexican soccer fan club founded in 2013. Sanchez started a unit in Salisbury, N.C., about an hour's drive northeast of the stadium, in 2017.
Even before the "Army" was deployed, the Gold Cup's first doubleheader in Charlotte drew about 46,000 fans in 2011. Then in 2015, about 56,000 fans attended. Mexico was on the docket each of those nights too and went on from there to capture the Gold Cup crown. In fact, Mexico's last two title runs included a game in Charlotte.
"I've been there for both of them," Sanchez said. "I know it's going to be a bigger crowd this year. In 2011 there was some tailgating, but in 2015 there was even more of that. This year, the tailgate starts at nine o'clock in the morning."