IRVINE, Calif. – Road playoff games in hostile environments are never easy. Keeping focus while a crowd of thousands is roaring for the opponent, and waiting on any mistake by the visitors to pounce, can be intimidating.
When Phoenix Rising FC arrived at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine for a USL playoff quarterfinal match on Saturday night, they felt a little different. Their fans had made the trip with them.
“When I came out for the warmup, right away I said, ‘Wow, OK, we’re not alone,’” Rising manager Juan Guerra said. “And I always tell our players, it’s a sense of belonging that is difficult to develop or create. When you have 21 new players, especially in Year One, it’s difficult to create a sense of belonging after a few months only.”
In his first full year as manager, Guerra has taken Phoenix to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2020. Phoenix Rising will play their third consecutive road playoff matchup at Sacramento Republic FC next Saturday.
They reached this milestone in front of over 175 Rising fans, members of the “Los Bandidos” support group, who traveled to Orange County this weekend to support their team. Some made impressive commitments to be in attendance, including 12-hour roundtrips in one day.
“Some people are driving back immediately after the match, because they couldn’t afford the hotel room,” said Karen Thompson, a Los Bandidos member. “And I just think that kind of commitment and support for the club is amazing.”
The Rising fans made their voices heard throughout the game, providing some sense of comfort to the players. Once the final whistle blew, Phoenix players immediately went to show their appreciation, celebrating and singing with their die-hard supporters.
“The fans were amazing,” Rising forward Danny Trejo said. “They’ve been showing up since the beginning of the season, and we appreciate it. We appreciate every single fan, and the job is not finished. We got to keep going.”
Guerra was equally impressed with how the players responded to the fans. He sees it as a two-way street to build a productive relationship between club and supporter.
“Look at our players, I mean they bleed these colors,” Guerra said. “They truly believe in what we’re building, and they truly understand that they have the opportunity to give back. Look how much they received tonight, but also how much that the players gave back to them. And that’s what it is. It’s a full circle, and that’s how organizations grow. That’s how you create a sense of belonging.”
It takes a committed effort for many members of Los Bandidos to attend games, particularly on the road. It’s these mutual sacrifices that bring the supporter group closer together. As the team marches on, Los Bandidos will certainly march along with them.
“I see what it takes for people to be able to take the time off to come,” Thompson said. “People having supportive partners to watch the kids back home. People just come together to make special experiences and memories for people. It’s a group that comes from all different backgrounds, all different walks of life.
“And they’re united by the love of this club.”