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Global Mar 25, 2014

Rongen’s stirring stint with American Samoa profiled in documentary film

Former D.C. United and U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team coach Thomas Rongen made a different sort of history when he took the reins of the American Samoa national team, long regarded as the worst international squad on earth.

Now that story is being told as a major documentary film.

The world premiere of the powerful and uplifting documentary NEXT GOAL WINS, directed by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison, will kick off the Tribeca Drive-In® series at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 19.

The film follows the American Samoa soccer team – FIFA’s lowest-ranked team for 17 years – which had not won a single competitive game and scored only twice in nearly two decades. Rongen takes on the daunting challenge of leading the team to the grueling 2014 World Cup qualification matches with the hope of finally winning their first ever competitive match.

Rongen – a hyperactive, abrasive leader from the old school who had played professionally with soccer greats like George Best and Johann Cruyff – is completely unprepared for what greets him on the tiny island in the Pacific. In his own words, “this is by far the lowest standard of soccer I’ve ever seen.”

Rongen soon begins putting together the most important pieces of the American Samoan team: He brings back Nicky Salapu, the emotionally scarred goalkeeper who once gave up 31 goals in a match against Australia; he convinces the team’s best player Ramin Ott, an American serviceman stationed 6,000 miles away, to rejoin; and finally, he promotes to the starting lineup Jaiyah Saelua, a member of Samoa’s third gender (the fa’fafine), who identifies as a woman and becomes the first transgender player ever to compete at an international level.

It will take a miracle-maker or a madman to turn the team’s fortunes around – and in maverick Dutch coach Thomas Rongen the islanders somehow find both. Rongen has just one month to transform this disparate crew into a winning team. Along the way, he undergoes a remarkable epiphany and comes to terms with a family tragedy.

NEXT GOAL WINS is a hilarious and inspirational story about the power of hope in the face of insurmountable odds, and an object lesson in what it really means to be a winner in life.

The film will open theatrically in select cities on April 25, but audiences across the country will also have the ability to organize their own screenings in theatres and venues via Gathr Films, the pioneer of Theatrical On Demand®. Through Gathr, anyone – e.g., soccer teams, organizations, youth groups, supporters clubs – can request a screening of Next Goal Wins in their hometown, no matter where they live.

Many soccer teams are already organizing screenings as a way of raising money for new jerseys, equipment and travel budgets. Visit the project’s website here to find current screenings of NEXT GOAL WINS in your area or request to become the host of a new event.

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