Critics' Pick

Next Goal Wins (NR)

Documentary 90 min. April 25, 2014
By Alan Scherstuhl
Here's how low the underdogs have sunk at the start of the rousing Next Goal Wins, the latest sports doc to follow a losing team’s quest not for a championship but for dignity: The American Samoan national soccer team suffers a 31-0 loss to Australia in the credits. That results in some rebuilding years, during which the Samoan players — all of whom have jobs or school or urgent business elsewhere -- gather to listen to a motivational speaker flown in to put them "in the zone." He opens with the story of a blind man who, one step at a time, manages to climb Mount Everest, "at one point the tallest mountain in North America."

They're not even expected to climb on the right continent.

The team faces two deficits that seem insurmountable: Their territory has little budget to develop talent, and they're still technically American, which means world-class football isn’t what the kids are dreaming of. The players are, though. We meet Nicky Salapu, the wise-eyed goaltender who gave up those 31 points -- he says he regrets nothing.

Fortunately, someone's got a dream, which leads to the arrival of Dutch football coach Thomas Rongen, a wiry, shouty type brought in to prepare the team for the qualifying rounds of the 2014 World Cup.

You can anticipate the culture clashes and training montages to come. Eventually, Rongen and his players come to understand each other, and the qualifying matches for this year's cup turn out to be tense, exciting games, with the scrappy Samoan squad playing their hearts out. If you find other people worth your time and attention, Next Goal Wins will stir you.
Mike Brett, Steve Jamison Thomas Rongen, Jaiyah Saelua, Nicky Salapu, Gene Ne'emia, Larry Mana'o, Rawlston Masaniai, Charles Uhrle

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