‘Next Goal Wins’ follows team from worst to winners

WASHINGTON — Few things are as inspirational as an underdog sports movie, particularly one that’s less about winning and more about personal journeys to prove self worth, such as Rocky just wanting to go the distance or Rudy just wanting to take the field.

Such is the feel of the new soccer documentary “Next Goal Wins,” which made its U.S. premiere April 19 at the Tribeca Film Festival and screens in the Washington area for the first time Thursday night in Arlington and McLean.

It follows Thomas Rongen, who led D.C. United to an MLS Cup in 1999 before being asked by U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati to coach the team from American Samoa, which had suffered the worst loss in world soccer history — 31-0 to Australia in 2011 — and a decade later remained at the bottom of FIFA’s world rankings.

Rongen flew to the South Pacific island with just three weeks to prepare his team for the World Cup qualifiers. He had his work cut out for him, with a team that had been outscored 292-2 over the past 17 years. Most of his players had never won a game.

“I looked at what I could influence in a short amount of time,” Rongen says. “I knew if you look at the components of soccer, technically I wasn’t going to make them a lot better.

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