Bridge Brigade connects Bay Area soccer fans

May 21, 2024, 10:40 p.m.

A steady drumbeat thunders and reverberates from the southern end of PayPal Park, carrying across the 18,000-seat stadium and lasting 90 minutes — from the opening kickoff to the final whistle of every Bay FC home match.  

Those drums belong to the Bridge Brigade, a group that supports the NWSL expansion team. The Brigade, usually about 100 people strong, fill the bleachers behind the net and chant nonstop in English and Spanish as one voice supporting the club club. As ten drummers provide the beat for them to follow, the noise is impossible to ignore. 

“You can feel their chants hitting us in the 80th, the 90th minute,” said Bay FC defender and former Stanford star Kiki Pickett. “You don’t feel the tiredness because you have the support of the fans behind you.”

Some of the chants came from Pickett herself, who submitted them for the supporters group to use before the beginning of the season.

For co-founder Jennifer Purvis, the Bridge Brigade’s role is to build the community of Bay Area soccer fans. Women’s soccer in particular already has a strong foothold in the region. Stanford and Santa Clara have both claimed national championships in recent years, and both teams have a loyal following.

Pickett and Maya Doms are two Stanford alums, who now get to play professionally less than 45 minutes away from their alma mater. Professional soccer, on the other hand, is a new phenomenon in the Bay. The name Bridge Brigade represents both the many bridges that connect the Bay Area, and the connections that the group is seeking to foster between soccer fans in the Bay. 

Purvis is a longtime supporter of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), and when it was announced that Bay FC would be coming into the league, she began organizing a supporters group. As the co-founder of the Bridge Brigade, along with Alishia Natiello, she started an Instagram account and Facebook group three days after the expansion club was announced. 

For help organizing the group and learning more about the supporters group process, the pair turned to Crystal Cuadra-Cutler.

Cuadra-Cutler had the experience that the Bridge Brigade needed as the president of a supporters group for the San Jose Earthquakes. She advised the Brigade for a couple months until joining leadership as a vice president.

On game days, the Brigade hosts tailgates open to the public. “Everybody has a home here,” Purvis emphasized.

Once the group has marched into the stadium, the leadership trio take turns up on the capo — yell leader — platform with a megaphone. From the platform, they lead the Bridge Brigade in their chants. Flags wave throughout the game, with supporters clapping and singing along. Elbert Esguerra, another capo, patrols the aisles of the supporters section, cheering and giving direction to those unable to hear the lyrics over the booming sound of the drums.

Dave Romero, the man in charge of those drums, is a member of an Earthquakes supporters group. Because of that experience, he was approached by Bridge Brigade leadership and was offered the position of drumline coordinator. Now, he leads the Brigade’s drummers, one of which is his 13-year-old daughter.

He credits the Bridge Brigade with being his gateway into women’s soccer, which he said, “is something totally new to me.” Romero said that the Bridge Brigade’s role is twofold: The group seeks “to bring people together,” and also “to make Pay Pal Park a place where visiting teams don’t want to [play].” 

For those who have been around women’s soccer in the Bay Area, the NWSL’s arrival is long overdue. Pickett was excited about the expansion team, noting that “it’s about time.” She praised the Bay Area fans, noting that Bay FC had better attendance than many more established NWSL teams.

Pickett also reminisced on her playing days at Cagan Stadium, specifically the Forest, a student supporters group that started her junior year. When comparing the two playing environments separated by 14 miles, she noted the biggest difference as simply the number of fans at PayPal. 

For Doms, the level of support from the fans and the Bridge Brigade has been unexpected, but definitely welcome. Doms was taken aback by the loud ovation she got upon making her debut on March 1 — “it was hard not to get emotional,” she said.

Earlier in the season, Doms stopped by one of the Brigade’s pregame tailgates. Doms was surprised that the group recognized her, adding that those in the group are diehard and that “we couldn’t ask for better fans.”

Bay FC have not had the hottest start to the season, winning two out of eight games, including only one win at home. But that has not changed the game day rituals and traditions for the Bridge Brigade. They still show up hours before the game, welcome all in with open arms, and make their presence known, loud as ever. They provide the energy for crowds that have been the 4th largest in the league, drawing in an average of just under 15,000 fans per game.

Esguerra acknowledged the early struggles, but emphasized the importance of the Bridge Brigade staying present, loud, and supportive. 

“They need [the] Bridge Brigade to keep the momentum going,” he said. “We are not giving up on this team.”

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