Next Goal Wins (2014)

‘Next Goal Wins’ (2014) – the original documentary

With Next Goal Wins, the film and its back story are equally interesting. American Samoa is the last place team in FIFA world rankings but is trying to qualify for WC 2014.

The American Samoan team has not won a game since 1983 and has been outscored 229-2. In WC 2002 qualifying, they gave up a record 31 goals to Australia. In one game.

Directors Mike Brett and Steve Jamison met playing football for Cambridge and formed Archer’s Mark, producing football commercials for Adidas and Nike. In 2011, they decided to make their first feature film.

The US Soccer plan to elevate American Samoa

When the film starts, the team’s self-acceptance of its losing ways looks inexorable. But halfway through filming, the situation changes dramatically when US Soccer sends in Thomas Rongen to coach the team for 3 weeks. Rongen brings in professionalism, a defensive plan, off-island players to improve the level of play, and the experienced GK from the Australian debacle.

Now, it’s game on.

Embedded with the team

For filming, the directors were embedded with the team. The players and the culture are welcoming and inclusive of all, including Jaiyah Saelua, a Fa’afafine, a third (trans) gender that is accepted in some Polynesian cultures. With the filmmakers sporting multiple cameras, they get great footage of the qualifying games. It took them 2 years to edit the film, which depicts Polynesian chants and prayers and portrays the themes of Warrior spirit, Big hearts, Unity, National pride, and a reason to stay on the island.

In other research I found, Rongen said the American Samoan federation told him they only owned 2 balls, so he brought 20 balls to practice with. He also drove players to their jobs and to twice-a-day practices. A cool part of the film is Rongen teaching the players how to slip n’ slide tackle to win the ball.

While the directors have produced an entertaining film, in my mind they do not answer their own original question, of why the on-islanders show up to play. Tom Rongen is a driven guy (see the film Chivas USA). When Rongen tells the team he would cut off his private part to play in a WC qualifying game, it seems he is talking to a room full of men with intact genitalia. I wished for a deeper understanding of the islanders’ passion for the game.

Update Mar-9-2020

This story has been enjoyed by many, and half-Polynesian director Taika Waititi is turning it into a feature film for release in 2020.

6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6