Growing up with a very crude understanding of imperialism, colonialism, and world history I freakin’ loved the World Cup for the chance to witness non-Western European country win it all and bring pride and dignity back to their homeland. Next Goal Wins is, on the surface, about this. American Samoan men (with one exception of a third gendered person on the team) trying to gain the respect and dignity for themselves and their country. The documentary follows their journey to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, still in the shadow of their infamous 31-0 loss to Australia in 2001.
The American Samoa soccer team is the underest of underdogs. They are literally last place in the World FIFA rankings. A win means going from 180th to 170th in the rankings. Despite the low stakes, this is place where passion, sincerity, and heart thrives. The players are amateurs: youth, students, and working class folks volunteering for the chance to represent their people, culture, and country on the international stage. Rarely in any other situation is the motivation to play as pure.
The documentary is more than the games, though. There are glimpses of deeper issues in American Samoa: how American Samoa deals with being an American territory while nearby Samoa is an independent nation, Samoan culture rejecting (Western) gender binaries through its concept of Fa’afafine, and how the majority of American Samoan youth enlist in the United States military because there are no jobs in their country.
These small hints give insight into how soccer is used as a channel for the players to understand their role in the grand scheme of things. This is how they try to understand how they can serve their community as American Samoan in a diaspora hugely influenced by United States militarism. Even if American Samoa did win the World Cup, it wouldn’t fix everything, but it would feel damn good.
P.S. There’s definitely some of the white guy finding himself in this movie, but to me it was minimal and ignorable (of course would’ve been better if was removed entirely).
Jonathan Yee is a techie and activist based in SF.
[ed – Next Goal Wins is showing for just one more day at the Roxie in SF. Catch it while you can!]