From the outside, Next Goal Wins looks like another underdog sports movie – a documentary about a soccer team considered the worst of all time that rises above expectation and sets out to become a winner. However, the movie is less a sports underdog story and is instead a movie about human spirit and perseverance and the story of a group of individuals who learn to work together as a family.
The movie starts out showing how much of an uphill battle this team – American Samoa – faces. They are not managed well and are undisciplined, which is why the team, although full of heart, is not good enough to win, actually losing to Australia 31-0 in the opening credits of the movie.
Honestly, the film is slow starting because we see the team as perennial losers with an organization doing everything it can to motivate them but little to teach them how to win. However, when they put out an ad for a new coach and only one man answers the ad, things change.
That man is Thomas Rongen, a Dutch coach who comes to the team with a very unorthodox manner of teaching. However, somewhere along the way, he teaches these players to be not only competitive but better teammates and better people in the long run. He clashes with management and gets all his players enthusiastic about winning. What he does, effectively, is he teaches them how to care.
Next Goal Wins, as is the case with most sports documentaries, is not short on colorful characters. There is Jaiyah Sealua, the first transgeneder player in World Cup competition. Nicky Salapu is the goaltender who gave up the 31 points against Australia and Rongen convinces him to come out of retirement to erase that embarrassment from his mind.
When these players, with this outspoken and colorful coach leading them, head into the World Cup to prove American Samoa is not a joke, it doesn’t matter if they win or lose. What matters is the road to that point and the group proving that they play with more heart than almost anyone else. Next Goal Wins is a movie about people who never give up and is a great view for anyone who loves watching people fight for respect.