By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jun 8, 2020) US Soccer Players – The lack of live sports gave a newfound focus on documentaries. Viewership for the 10-part ESPN docu-series The Last Dance, for example, finished with an average of 5.6 million viewers. This has prompted a series of armchair critics to chime in on which sports docs they like best. Axios recently put out a list of the 50 best sports documentaries ever. There are definitely a few very good soccer ones on that list.
Soccer documentaries tend to focus on the international game, naturally, since the sport is so global in nature, or on the story of a single player. Too often Americans are ignored. That’s a shame given how rich American soccer’s past really is, stretching back as far as the 1850s. US Soccer dates from 1913, the same year as the tournament we now call the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup began.
My list of top docs focuses on American soccer, or at least stories, teams, coaches, and players that have a US connection. Two titles on my list were both released this past spring, making them new additions to a sports audience craving new content. With an MLS tournament in Orlando still in the works, here are five documentaries you should watch this month.
Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006)
This documentary, available on Amazon and iTunes, takes you back to the halcyon days of 1970s New York and the Cosmos, one of the most famous club teams in history. Narrated by actor Matt Dillon, this 97-minute film gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the team’s international roster of superstars and the egos (Giorgio Chinaglia alert!) that played out in the dressing room and on the field. The film features interviews with several notable team members, but no Pele. Shep Messing is particularly fun to watch in this film as he recalls those years.
Next Goal Wins (2014)
The 97-minute film, available on DVD, looking back on American Samoa’s quest to qualify for the 2014 World Cup is the ultimate underdog story. Managed by the Dutch-born Thomas Rongen, a former MLS Coach of the Year, the team has to overcome a number of obstacles. Wonderfully shot, the documentary tells the story of a team trying to turn things round following a series of embarrassing defeats, highlighted by the 31-1 defeat in 2001 to Australia. It remains the worst loss in international soccer history. It also gives viewers an intimate look into Rongen’s life, something all American fans can appreciate. A dramatic version of the story with Michael Fassbender as Rongen began filming late last year.
The Two Escobars (2014)
The ESPN documentary recounts Colombia’s rise as a soccer power and the narco-money that helped the game grow. The title refers to drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and former Colombia defender Andres Escobar. Not related by blood, the two men are tragically connected. It is Escobar’s own goal in a 2-1 defeat to the United States at the 1994 World Cup, one of the biggest wins for the USMNT, proves fatal in the end. The 104-minute documentary is a cocktail of soccer, politics and crime that highlight the dashed hopes of a nation hoping to win the World Cup and the violent underbelly that tried to make it happen.
Soccertown USA (2020)
This 69-minute documentary, available on YouTube since its March premiere, recalls the story of Kearny, the small New Jersey town located just over the Hudson River from New York City, and its contribution to the National Team. Specifically, it was home to Tony Meola, John Harkes and Tab Ramos. The trio would go on to help the USMNT quality for the 1990 World Cup, the team’s first in 40 years, and contribute to the game’s rebirth in this country. It’s a wonderful new way to get to know three players and the story of how they helped the US grow to soccer prominence.
The Beckham Effect (2020)
Another new documentary, which premiered in March on Fox Sports 1 and available on Sling, recalls the arrival of English superstar David Beckham’s 2007 signing to the Los Angeles Galaxy. It goes through the many ups and downs of his six years in MLS. Although the documentary only clocks in at 45 minutes, it packs plenty of action, interviews with former teammate Landon Donovan and Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, and puts Beckham’s role in the correct cultural context with
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Where are they now? The 1990 USMNT World Cup squad
- The history of the Hudson River derby
- The state of American club soccer
- The history of English players in MLS
Cover courtesy of Miramax Films – GreeneStreet Films – ESPN