Football (or soccer, for you American readers) is a game where fortunes can be turned around in the briefest of moments. Where minnows of the game can pull off a surprise victory against much larger, better funded opponents. Where better than in football will you find a true example of David VS Goliath-style showdowns? That has rarely been the case for American Samoa who have languished at the bottom of the FIFA world rankings for several years. Until the release of this film, they were best known for their 31-0 loss to Australia in 2001, the biggest defeat in the history of international football.
This documentary film joins the team as they reach their lowest ebb, and now must face several stronger opponents in the first round of the Oceanic Football Confederation’s world cup qualifiers.
Next Goal Wins is notable for covering the birth of American Samoa’s newfound belief in their abilities, even if it does mean calling in support from players who are currently living elsewhere in the world. It also deserves plaudits for highlighting the first transgender player in international football, Jaliyah Saelua, and his/her experiences both as a footballer and a transgendered individual. Perhaps bests about his/her story is that for all intents and purposes he/she is nothing more than just another player on the team, and it’s refreshing to see that he/she is not treated any differently by the rest of the team.
This self belief came about following the introduction of Dutch manager Thomas Rongen, which is covered at length in the film. Bringing with him a knowledge and understanding of European club football, his task is to instil in the team a similar level of training and a similar level of discipline that they can use in their forthcoming international qualification games.
It’s perhaps an obvious thing to say that this is not so much about the team making it to the World Cup, because in the real world that was never going to happen. Instead it’s the journey the players go on, literally and metaphorically, as they learn how to work better as a team, improve their tactical knowledge and that just because they are bottom of the FIFA rankings doesn’t mean they can’t push themselves to be better. In fact they were in the perfect position to demonstrate that improvements could be made. Being bottom of the rankings means you can’t drop any lower, so any improvement will be abundantly clear.
Removing the focus on the details of the beautiful game and placing emphasis on the players and the behind the scenes team supporting the squad is why Next Goal Wins triumphs. It’s a feel good story that will hopefully bring out the best in yourself, as it did with the team at the centre of it. It’s nothing original, sure, but it doesn’t have to be an original narrative to invoke some sort of response from its audience.
So did they make it off the bottom of the FIFA rankings? You’ll just have to watch the film and find out for yourself. Or just Google it.