If you pitched Next Goal Wins as a fictional film, you’d be laughed out of the office. This soccer documentary reproduces every cliché of inspirational sports films like The Mighty Ducks or Cool Runnings. The lowest-ranked soccer team in the world, American Samoa, who infamously lost 31-0 to the Socceroos in 2001, fill out the role of scrappy underdogs. Their crew of enthusiastic non-professionals – including Jaiyah Saelua, belonging to the third Samoan gender, fa’afafine – is supplemented by a couple United States players with American Samoan backgrounds and a Dutch coach with his own tragic backstory as they prepare for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers.
Next Goal Wins hits every beat of the underdog story as you’d expected. But where you could dismiss a fictional film telling this story are unoriginal and emotionally manipulative, Mike Brett and Steve Jamison’s documentary just works. It gives you goosebumps and it makes you want to jump out of your chair and cheer. A lot of this is thanks to Julian Quantrill’s gloriously compelling editing, which thrillingly snaps through those familiar story beats, but the main reason is that it transcends the falseness of triumphant sports clichés through grounding them in vibrantly real human experience.