Movie Review: 'Next Goal Wins' Scores Big

A review of the film “Next Goal Wins” with exclusive quotes from director, Mike Brett.
by Austin Farrow   |   Thursday, April 24, 2014

Americans Overseas – column on USA soccer players playing abroad for clubs outside of North America

“Next Goal Wins,” a film documenting the American Samoa international team in 2011, makes the viewer feel as if they were there with the team for Oceania World Cup Qualifying in 2011.

“Next Goal Wins” examines the humiliation of losing 31-0 to Australia and the exuberance behind turning it around to win their first ever official match. When both pieces of news were cast across the world, people either cared greatly or didn’t care at all. “Next Goal Wins” will make any footballing cynic care about this underdog story.

“It shows you the enormous power of football that this is a story going around the world. (It) completely changed the perception about this tiny island and people. They’ve done something historic,” says director Mike Brett.

The American Samoa international football team before 2011 World Cup Qualifying was the worst ranked football team in the world. They had no recorded wins and they only had 2 total goals to their name. Ten years earlier, in 2001, they lost 31-0 to Australia, a world record.

With World Cup Qualifying approaching, the American Samoa federation hire Thomas Rongen as manager with help from the United States Soccer Federation. Rongen has vast footballing experience. He has coached and played with some of the best around. He knows the highest level of football. But does he know the lowest? He finds along the way that nothing prepared him for his experience in American Samoa.

Filmmakers Brett and Steve Jamison take your mind and eyes on a journey to witness a beautiful island, a heartfelt moment of history, and the wonderful people involved.

Not only was the experience perspective changing for the likes of Brett, Jamison, Rongen, and anyone involved, but “Next Goal Wins” is perspective changing. It is exactly what you want from such a motivational story. I can’t imagine a more perfect exploration of the American Samoan people, the team, and Rongen’s personal journey throughout his time on the island.

I spoke with director Brett about various aspects of the film and his personal take on what took place. Much like Thomas Rongen with coaching, the filmmakers didn’t quite know what to expect going in to film the team.

Soon Brett would learn what to expect.

“It was a complete departure from what we were used to in terms of the professionalism and the level but I think what the advantage of that was that these guys were completely free of any cynicism whatsoever about the sport,” Brett says about the team.

The American Samoan culture also had quite the learning curve. The people are free spirits and the overall mood is loving.

“The thing about the (American) Samoan’s is that they have a very powerful value. It is about family. It is about loyalty. It’s about warmth and hospitality,” Brett says on the mentality of American Samoans.

Once seeing the attitude and positive mindset of the people, it’s easy to conceive that the nation would come to triumph. Mike states that “the reason we wanted to come see them was not to show how bad they were but actually to show how much they loved the game.”

That very triumph and nature of the American Samoan people brought new realizations to Mike Brett and others involved. “You realize you’ve become quite jaded and quite cynical about the game,” Brett says.

Brett had extremely positive things to say about Thomas Rongen as well after examining him in the American Samoan environment for an extended time.

“Thomas has worked at an extremely professional level but what sets him apart from other managers is that he has a universal understanding of how to make players pick whatever level they’re at. He has a phenomenal amount of technical knowledge but he also understands that you have to cut your cloth depending on the situation that you’re in,” Brett compliments Rongen.

Rongen isn’t the only figure with the spotlight in “Next Goal Wins” however. Goalkeeper Nicky Salapu, Ramin Ott, and Rawlston Masaniai play important parts as players. Specifically, Jaiyah Saelua is a very important focus of the film. As displayed in the film, Saelua is the first ever transgender player to compete in a FIFA World Cup Qualifying match.

“Jaiyah was an incredible player. I think she really blossomed under Thomas because he showed enormous faith in her. She had a much better positional sense than a lot of the other players. She’s incredibly athletic. He made her work really hard. He made her believe she deserved a place in the starting eleven. At that point, she had always been a squad player. She had never really started a game before. Jaiyah without a doubt, was a massively improved player (under Rongen),” Brett emphatically stated about Jaiyah Saelua.

“Next Goal Wins” is released in theatres across the nation on Friday, April 25. To see if it’s coming to a theatre near you visit If it’s not, you can even request that the film be shown at a theatre more convenient for yourself and others.

If you are looking for the ultimate convenient experience to view “Next Goal Wins,” Brett assured me that streaming was a strong possibility but that it would be after this summer.

Perhaps I can understand and relate to the story of “Next Goal Wins” being an avid football follower but my honest opinion is that any person on this green earth can watch this and feel something quite uplifting. Maybe American Samoa didn’t score 31 goals and make up for that Australia defeat completely but in my eyes, “Next Goal Wins” is a 31-0 victory itself.


Indian River State
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Bringing you news on soccer players across MLS and American players playing in top leagues around the world, Austin is a journalism major who enjoys the fine arts. He doesn't favor one club over another, but just enjoys all MLS play.