There are fans and fair-weather fans, and then there are the devoted — ones who invest a great deal of their lives exploring and even sharing their passion with others.
Take 27-year-old Jesse Mendoza for instance.
A paraprofessional by day at the Gainesville Exploration Academy and soccer enthusiast by night, Mendoza is also a founding member of Resurgence — one of four recognized supporters groups for Major League Soccer’s hottest expansion team, Atlanta United FC. Each week, the 500-member club helps provide soccer fans with the full experience at Bobby Dodd Stadium on game days, wowing the crowd with vibrant and creative tifos and pulsating chants.
With Mexican heritage on his father’s side, Mendoza grew to love a game that was overshadowed by Gainesville’s loyalty to American football and close proximity to the college football town of Athens. So instead of joining the hype, he chose to watch televised soccer matches next to his old man.
Yet it wasn’t until 2013 when Mendoza became a member of the American Outlaws, the raucous supporters group made up of 30,000 members and 191 official chapters around the country, all faithful to the U.S. National teams. For four years he has drummed alongside his comrades during international match play, aside from cheering on his new favorite club in Atlanta.
“We’re a football town, through and through,” Mendoza said. “Just knowing that through this group, no matter what city I’m in, they have a chapter at a bar where I can meet people who are just as invested in soccer as me.”
It was in October 2015 when Mendoza first began a new exciting chapter in his fandom. He attended one of soccer’s great rivalries — USA versus Mexico — at the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, for a CONCACAF playoff. In California he was exposed to a diverse and accommodating soccer fan base, including the American Outlaws.
“I remember I was one of the furthest from the South that came from Georgia,” Mendoza said. “It’s always nice, the fanbase. As long as you’re part of the Outlaws, you basically have family everywhere.”
And last summer Mendoza backpacked from city to city for COPA America Centenario. Although going solo on this extended trip that took Mendoza from San Francisco to Chicago, and Philadelphia to Houston, in reality he wasn’t alone at all.
Mendoza had the entire soccer community as company. As he hopped from one hostel to the next, and Ubered to games Mendoza mingled with fans from all walks of life and many countries like Germany, Argentina, Chile, Austria, England and Canada. But regardless of their differences it all comes back to the love of the game.
“Soccer in all is very culturally rich thing when you’re talking about soccer as the biggest sport in the world,” Mendoza said. “So when you meet people, whether it be USA fans or whether it be Atlanta United fans ... whether it be people from different countries, it’s such a big sport that you can always find common ground with somebody.”
Through discovering a hostel system within the U.S., Mendoza took full advantage of the affordable rates on top of befriending many young fans from South American countries, including an “interesting” group of Chileans during his stay in Philadelphia.
Mendoza recollected the day he showed his Chilean friends where he was sitting for a Chile tournament game, and they made it clear his nosebleed section seat was not satisfactory.
“Oh you’re not sitting there,” one Chilean said to Mendoza right before he ripped up the stub and then handed him a field-level seat with their group.
“It’s kind of funny,” Mendoza said. “They didn’t know much English either. They just flew in from Chile ... so with the little Spanish I knew, I was communicating with them and we became pretty good friends.”
Despite his reserved nature, Mendoza felt like family amongst strangers. The interactions taught him a great deal about himself and gave him a newfound confidence. Along the way, countless people offered him food, drinks and even extended him invitations to visit again in the future.
“The soccer community is very nice and opening when it comes to travel like that,” Mendoza said. “You start to make friends quickly, and it’s almost like every day you’re celebrating at a bar. But you know, it was more of a nice community aspect ... whether it was the Chileans, the Argentinians, even some of the Canadians.”
It’s through these experiences that Mendoza has come to learn if you’re kind and show enough compassion toward others, you’ll get just as much of it back — a powerful sentiment that gave him added inspiration for Resurgence. That same compassion is embedded within his group’s creed.
“Sometimes that really did, in my case, open opportunities, whether it was just random people giving me better seat or people telling me if I’m ever in Germany or in Austria, I got a place to stay with them,” Mendoza said of his travels. “Even to this day, the Canadians message me and go, ‘When are you gonna visit us?’”
More so now, Mendoza spends his time supporting Atlanta United with Resurgence and currently runs the Gainesville Exploration Academy Recreation Liga (G.E.A.R.), a youth soccer league for fifth graders. Mendoza plans to revamp the group within the next year and convert it into an all-girls recreational league.
Another road trip in the future, however, is not out of the question.