Feature length sports documentaries about real high school teams commonly focus on a theme of social good. In contrast, The El Paso Conquest covers the boys soccer team at Del Valle High School in El Paso, Texas in it ups and downs, but it avoids social themes.
Since the school’s founding in 1987, Del Valle has only had one head coach, Bill Reichman. Still coaching as of this review, Reichman has led the Conquistadores to over 600 victories, 2 State Championships, and 3 State silver or bronze medals.
Coach Bruce Reichman
About half of the film focuses on interviews with and about Reichman. Originally coaching pointy football, he was forced to create the boys soccer team, even though he knew nothing about the game. A knowledgeable fellow teacher volunteered to be the assistant coach, and fairly quickly, they built the school into a long-standing powerhouse. However, the filmmaker points out several times that it was a winning team that got very little recognition.
Director Minn gives a thorough picture of what makes Bruce Reichman a successful coach: hard work, dedication, discipline, enthusiasm, and ability to talk to and inspire his players. From a referee perspective, it is interesting to hear him talk honestly about getting his hotheadedness under control, so that he wasn’t getting thrown out of so many games.
The players and the soccer
The other half of the film is about the players and the student body. We are entertained by quite a lot of scenes of the marching band. There is a ton of footage from Del Valle’s biggest games up through 2013, the last year they went to the State Tournament final.
There are many interviews with players who talk about how they felt after big games and big losses. The footage includes a lot of goals and a lot of misses; it is high school soccer played on dirt as well as artificial turf pointy football fields. However, there are so many players from different seasons and not in any easily discernible order, that it becomes difficult to associate any player with a particular team achievement. The film could have used much sharper editing, but then it would have ended up being TV-length.
What I would have liked to see
Director Charlie Minn has a slew of documentary film credits. He is a native son of El Paso, which shares the USA-Mexico border with Ciudad Juarez, the oft-cited murder capital of the world. Most of Minn’s films are about massacres, murders and drugs, Juarez, and Mexican cartels. A former sportscaster, some of his documentaries are about sports. A lot of the film titles have numbers in them, such as 7 Murders a Day.
The Del Valle HS student population is largely Hispanic, and from the footage it is clear that the boys already knew how to play soccer before joining the team. So I was disappointed that the film largely ignored these facts and didn’t discuss the cultural or political aspects of being a Del Valle high schooler in El Paso. For example, I would have enjoyed frank discussion from the players on how high school soccer kept them on the right path, even if their parents couldn’t make it to the games.
Coach Jake is the most similar film to this one (a high school boys team in New York) and is a lot more polished. However. I feel The El Paso Conquest is more honest. Futbolistas 4 Life and In the Game are excellent documentaries about high school girls soccer players.
6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6