Soccer, it is thought by some, is the most popular sport event on a worldwide
basis. This film will be of interest to all those stadium fillers who can
applaud an American success or a British defeat. Of course, it delivers most
for American fans because it's about an American team.
It was the spring of 1950. The U.S. was extended an invitation to compete in
the World Cup in Brazil, and they had to put a team together in 10 days that
wouldn't outright embarrass the country on the field.
To do that, organizers looked to top New York players and then to a few
outstanding athletes playing in the hotbed of soccer fever at the time, St.
Louis, Missouri. The lads there were little more than weekend futbol
warriers and devoted lovers of the game. They all had day jobs, girlfriends,
fiances, wedding plans, job dependencies.
A huge challenge was merely to get along with the eastern contingent, let
alone learn to play together as a team.
This film is about the process of putting it together for their trip to Rio,
where they were little more than curiosities. After a loss to Italy in a
warm-up game, then being soundly defeated by Spain, so little was expected of
them for the remainder of the series that the betting crowd didn't even
bother to set odds on their chances in a match against the legendary and
favored English boys.
The Brazilian fans bore no great love for the Brits and were quick to cheer
lustily for every American move that proved successful -- until their support
became a factor in the game by feeding the American team an energy and
optimism that proved difficult to overcome.
This narrowly focused, devotional film details (to a fault) how a rag-tag
assemblage of Sunday soccer players defied all odds in achieving an American
dream and, it is suggested, opening the door for an actually competitive U.S.
For those to whom soccer is a ho hum sport, and to those with a limited
appreciation for U.S. sport history, the film has little else going for it as
it concentrates fully on the known details.
Indiana director David Anspaugh ("Hoosiers," 1986) pulled together an
essentially good cast to convey the athletes, their intensities, rivalries
and issues, and the inspirational one concerning the historical opportunity
and its outcome. The proportion of footage devoted to actual field play is
extreme by comparison to most other sports films, which works to the
detriment of an audience looking for more universal meanings and more
complete character identification. It is not a "Bull Durham."
But, let me be clear: if you share Anspaugh's deep feelings for this game,
you will not want to miss his respectable study of triumph and well-earned
This should not to be confused with the 2002 documentary about the Korean
soccer team, sporting the exact same title.
~~ Jules Brenner