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“Next Goal Wins" premiered Sunday at Toronto Film Festival

Jaiyah Saelua and Oscar winning director Taika Waititi
Our own soccer legend Jaiyah Saelua calls it “a life altering experience”

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Based on the real life journey of the American Samoan soccer team, the “Next Goal Wins” premiered at the world renowned Toronto Film Festival this past Sunday, September 10, 2023. The movie is slated for its global release on November 17, 2023

The movie follows Dutch-born coach, Thomas Rongen, as he tries to whip into shape one of the weakest soccer teams on the planet — the American Samoa men's team — into a qualifier for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The theatrical release of the movie has attracted attention to the territory and American Samoa’s very own, Jaiyah Saelua. Jaiyah and coach Thomas Rongen were in attendance at the premiere and were greeted with cheers and love by the crowd.

In July of this year, the movie had a private showing at the Nu’uuli Place Cinema, where renowned Kiwi director Taika Waititi was in attendance, and is now being showcased at the famous film festival. Saelua flew from Pago Pago to Canada for the premiere and says that “it’s been a life altering experience and one of the wonderful things life is throwing at her” that warrants gratitude.

Saelua, who is a part of the local fa’afafine community, is being portrayed on screen by Kaimana, a trans actress based out of New Zealand.

Waititi has gone on record to say that he watched the original documentary by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison about the Territory’s team and couldn’t believe it was a real story. In addition, he also emphasized that “Next Goal Wins” is special for him, as it is a gesture that illustrates his disdain for imperialism.

 “We don’t want to see a sports film about winners who just keep winning, it’s boring,” Waititi said. While based on true events, Waititi stated a disclaimer that some aspects of the story were adapted for his version.

Of note, Saelua is recognized by FIFA as the first openly trans person to play in a World Cup qualifying game and was also conducted into FIFA’s Legends. FIFA Legends are recognized when they have contributed a significant achievement in the game of football — soccer in this case — and taking into account achievements linked to domestic and international careers. In total, there are seven thousand footballers and coaches who can call themselves FIFA Legends, and American Samoa’s very own Saelua is amongst them.

Leading by example is vital in football and the stars who have inspired millions of fans in the past, and future, can make a difference as role models for generations to come. In addition to all these accomplishments, Saelua is also a coach for the American Samoa boys team, and a fierce advocate for non-binary and fa’afafine athletes in American Samoa.