The Ultimate Goal (2017)

‘The Ultimate Goal’ (2017) — inspirational behind the scenes

English footballer Dan Metcalfe has been the soccer coach to the stars of Hollywood, choreographing the soccer action and training the actors for many films such as Will Ferrell’s Kicking and Screaming and Amanda Bynes’ She’s the Man. In The Ultimate Goal, Metcalfe advances beyond an accessory role and adds Writer Director and Producer to his CV. This documentary feature film follows his club team as they finish up their youth careers under him. They undertake a big trip to play 3 friendlies in London, followed by advancing in the USYS State Cup competition in Cal South (i.e. Southern California branch of the US Youth Soccer organization).

The Story

When I watched this film on Peacock, I was confused because the film was listed as 2020. IMDB lists the film as 2017. But the fact is that the matches were played in 2008. I knew something was out of sync because the referee uniforms were an old style that were replaced over 10 years ago. It turned out that the players, of which Daniel Steres was the only name I recognized, were largely born in 1990 and they were in their final year of high school. These players are now 33-34 years old. Metcalfe had coached the team since U9-U10.

As Writer-Director, Metcalfe’s goal is to weave a motivational story that shows how, when applied by the 11 players on the field, Discipline and Motivation lead to Success. The result becomes the club name of DMS11. The Ultimate Goal of the club and the film is to record the team closing out its legacy with wins of their league and major tournaments.

To kick start the DMS theme, consulting producer and Brit Mark Burnett gives a motivational speech about the boys’ upcoming trip and the nuances of English football. Burnett produced the Survivor and The Apprentice series and is a former Chairman of MGM Television. Burnett tells the boys that sensory acuity means you must pay attention and make a decision, without needing to be 100% certain. Just be confident and make that decision. (Obviously, this is why Burnett liked Donald Trump, so we can blame him for giving Trump a new career and a Presidency 🙁.)

Most of the film is about the boys’ 10-day trip to England. We learn the stories of Abraham (AB) Villon and Michael Manella, both of whom are literally fatherless. The team play against Fulham and West Ham academies, and when QPR bows out, the boys defeat Thurrock FC. But the Americans are beset with injuries and discipline problems. The camera follows the boys into the locker room, their hotel rooms, and team meetings. It’s really a forerunner to the ground-breaking Sunderland ‘Til I Die.

The Soccer and the ultimate goal

When I watched the film, I felt the portrayal of the coaching is of a period where coaches didn’t work under the precautions we have today. The boys are wearing masks while practicing away from the direction of the 2018 Woolsey wildfire in nearby Malibu. Today in my area of wildfire-prone California, they shut down the schools when the air quality is unsafe! Coach Metcalfe encourages his playmaker to play despite what appears to be a broken toe, dedicating the 3rd friendly to his absent father.

Metcalfe also rostered a rather small 14 year old boy (Zev) on his team. While a lot of old-time coaches will say that playing up is the best way to challenge a kid, today’s organizations don’t allow such large age gaps. Today, Metcalfe says he was very judicious about not putting the 14 yo in harm’s way. I’m just pointing out to viewers that these coaching practices should probably not be emulated today.

As far as capturing soccer, the camera work is STD DEF TV format, not very high resolution, and filmed from ground level. Metcalfe spent $200k of his own money, taking 5 cameramen to England. But choosing STD DEF was an unfortunate choice, and for me the film is too much like a home movie. However, I think every soccer movie filmmaker and choreographer will say that filming soccer well is really hard. Even for Taika Waititi.

The games in England tend to show the DMS11 highlights, which largely consist of run the ball down the touchline and cross. The State Cup games are more balanced in showing both sides of the action, and the Championship final is exciting to watch. Metcalfe says that the referee initially would not allow him to film the Final, but he managed to prevail.

What initially bothered me about this film were the many scenes of Metcalfe telling his team that winning is their only goal and the reason they are there. But it turns out that is too simple an interpretation. Metcalfe’s principle is for players to understand that their purpose is simple and binary — to score or to not be scored on. If they measure themselves in that way and focus on playing their best, the winning and the end to a dream season will follow.

The Aftermath

Because the footage and players are so old, I was able to research how their futures in soccer turned out. The film ends by showing that all the boys went on to collegiate soccer or directly to the pros. Metcalfe says all the players had a chance to go to D1 schools. It’s not clear why they list 20 high school players when the roster is limited to 18. But of the total 21 players listed, 6 went to junior college (5 went to Arizona Western Community College), and 4 players didn’t appear to land anywhere.

Daniel Steres is the only player to play regularly in the MLS. He and 2 other boys are still playing: Abraham (AB) Villon is in the NISA, and the former 14 year old Zev Taublieb is with the Rochester Rhinos. But at age 30, Taublieb has only played one game in the last 3 years due to recurring injuries. Of the rest of the players, it appears that few played more than 2 more years of soccer, few got off the bench, and few graduated college. Metcalfe says the team won Dallas Cup in Apr-2007 as The Rampage, and they were not allowed to compete in the top Dallas Cup division the following year. Which is why they went to England instead.

Update on Mar-21-2024

If you saw the original version of this review, it was quite different. But Dan Metcalfe contacted me, and we had a zoom conversation for 90 minutes. Speaking to him like this, I came away with quite a different impression of the man and his film. The film made me think Metcalfe was more of a Jose Mourinho, but instead in person, he is a lot closer to being a Jurgen Klopp. He doesn’t have a wikipedia page or a memoir.

Metcalfe has choreographed many soccer movies, and I first noticed his name while watching Will Ferrell hand out actual “Coach Dan” DVDs in his comedy. Fun fact: although Metcalfe was a high level youth player in England, his path to soccer choreography came through dancing and performing in Andrew Lloyd Webber productions.

Metcalfe also told me that his film was been pirated, and that he makes no money from the various streaming platforms where you might watch it. He also explained that the NCAA told him the film could not be distributed until all the players had graduated college, which took 8 years. He also did the editing himself, which explains a lot (imagine if Klopp edited his own film 😀).

I still believe that winning is not everything. I still believe the chance of becoming a pro athlete is ridiculously slim, and the chance of lasting more than 5 years as a pro are even slimmer. Even retired SJ Earthquakes player Shea Salinas, who is a fan favorite, said recently that he tells academy players not to go pro unless they have a college offer they can weigh it against.

Look kids and parents, unless you are Messi, don’t pass up a full free ride to Stanford! You don’t want high school to be the pinnacle of your player’s success.

Dan Metcalfe is a very creative guy and is now manufacturing and selling exercise equipment to improve brain to pressure point connection, very helpful for the elderly but useful for any age. It’s another company with digits in the name:

In Conclusion

If you like old home movies about soccer, you might enjoy this film. I probably got into way too much research, made some conclusions, and then Dan Metcalfe took the time to fill in the gaps for me. It’s tragic that it took 10 years to distribute the film, and that righting financial wrongs is so difficult. Still, Metcalfe assures me that parents have said their kids were inspired by the film, and he encourages people to check it out even though he does not stand to benefit.

6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6