NEXT GOAL WINS*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
The film starts with a priest (Taika Waititi) talking about the island of American Samoa, known for being very cultural and religious, but also infamous for having the lowest-ranked soccer team in the world. One of their qualifying matches against the Australian team from 2001 is shown, in which goalkeeper Nicky Salapu (Uli Latukefu) let slip 31 goals, leading to an embarrassing loss for American Samoa.
During another game, Tavita Taumua (Oscar Kightley), president of the Football Federation of American Samoa, fires their coach Ace (David Fane) because he is too soft on the team, which is believed to be why they are so bad. At home, Tavita eats dinner with his wife Ruth (Rachel House) and their son Daru (Beulah Koale), who is also a player on the team. After their loss, Tavita had boobs drawn all over his face by the heads of the other football federations after losing a bet, and he is planning to get another local coach. Ruth throws her sandal at Tavita’s head and urges him to get an actual good coach.
On a neighboring island, disgraced soccer coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) is brought to meet with his employers at the American Soccer Federation, who are telling him that he is being let go due to his bad behavior. At the suggestion of his ex-wife Gail (Elisabeth Moss), Thomas is given an opportunity to coach the American Samoa team, despite knowing their reputation for how low they are ranked. With no other options, Thomas reluctantly agrees.
Thomas travels to American Samoa, where he meets Tavita and the rest of the team, and they give him a traditional cultural greeting. Tavita then takes Thomas to the house where he will be staying. Throughout his stay, Thomas drinks and listens to voice messages from his daughter Nicole (voice of Kaitlyn Dever).
Thomas starts his coaching duties, at first confused by the team and the whole island’s commitment to a curfew where they stop everything to pray. He meets Jaiyah Saelua (Kaimana), a pre-op trans woman, who is also a member of the team. Tavita describes her to Thomas as being fa’afafine, meaning people like Jaiyah are considered special on the island. Thomas does not immediately agree to having her on the team, even getting into a brief altercation when he calls her by her deadname (Johnny) and gets body-slammed to the ground for it.
While Thomas makes it clear he thinks the team is the worst he’s ever coached, even getting ready to quit and go home, Tavita tries to encourage him to get to know them better and to enjoy his time on the island. Thomas gets pulled over while driving and recruits the officer, Rambo (Semu Filipo), after witnessing him kick a can off a sign and into a bin. Jaiyah later goes to Thomas’s house to bring a peace offering, and they spend time outside talking and starting off on the right foot. She later shows him a video of the team playing and says that most of the past players quit because nobody believed in them.
Jaiyah brings Thomas to a store to find Nicky now working as an employee, still feeling ashamed of letting 31 goals slip by him. Despite a talk with Thomas, Nicky declines to rejoin the team. After this, Thomas starts to try and connect with the teammates individually and come up with his own plays to incorporate into games.
The team approaches a couple of days before their qualifying matches. While running up a hill, Thomas starts to become dehydrated, prompting the whole team to carry him down to the ocean. Thomas then starts to become more involved in the culture, joining his teammates at church and earning their trust.
The team flies to the Independent Nation of Samoa for the matches. They run into their rivals, the Tonga team, who mock them for their lowest-ranked status (and because the Tonga team are more physically able). While the team settles in, Thomas runs into colleagues at the soccer federation, who mock American Samoa since some of them were Australians that won the 31-0 game. Thomas also sees Gail coming in with her new boyfriend/his employer, Alex Magnussen (Will Arnett). Thomas and Alex speak privately outside, where Alex says he will get Thomas a better job, even though Thomas has grown closer and more confident in the team. At night, Thomas hangs out with Gail on the field after some drinking.
Nicky returns to the team, to everyone’s excitement, just before the start of the matches. Before the game starts, Thomas has to talk to Jaiyah, who is having an emotional breakdown after stopping with taking hormones. Thomas helps her relax and encourages her to help inspire the players.
The game begins, and American Samoa plays horribly right off the bat. During one of the breaks, Thomas yells at the team for their lack of efforts. Just as he prepares to quit, Tavita talks to him again and tries to calm him down, telling him that even if they lose and don’t get a goal like always, the team still wants to have fun playing and look on the bright side. After Thomas takes a breather, he comes back out to the team and admits to them that Nicole died in a car accident years earlier on her way to soccer practice, and he blames himself for not being there for her. This allows him to connect with everyone on an emotional level, and he tells them to just have fun playing.
When the team gets back out, they start to play a little better. After an intense and bumpy start, Daru manages to get the ball to roll over Tonga’s goal line, scoring American Samoa their first ever goal. Everyone cheers, until Tavita starts to faint from heatstroke. Daru later goes to find his mother and father in a medical tent to update them on what happened with the rest of the game. Jaiyah managed to score another goal for the team, but after Daru caused a penalty, Tonga took their penalty shot, and Nicky managed to block the goal. The ref added five minutes to the clock, but after enough time passes, American Samoa is declared the winner.
Thomas joins the team for a celebration. While they had their victory, they did not win the match to qualify for the World Cup, but they are still proud of their first success nonetheless. Thomas announces that while he will stay on the island, he is going to take a different job nearby. As the sun starts to set, Thomas joins the team in a customary song and dance.
The ending text states that American Samoa no longer had the lowest-ranked team after defeating Tonga. Thomas Rongen became Chief Scout for the U.S. national team and is now a commentator for CBS Sports. Nicky Salapu is still captain of the team, and Tavita Taumua still runs the FFAS. Jaiyah Saelua was the first openly transgender athlete to compete in a World Cup qualifier. She is now an award-winning soccer coach and a FIFA ambassador for equality.
The film is based on the true story of the American Samoa soccer team, notorious for being the lowest-ranked team in the world. Disgraced coach Thomas Rongen reluctantly agrees to take a coaching position for the team, despite knowing how bad they are. After bonding with members such as FFAS (Football Federation of American Samoa) president Tavita Taumua, as well as players like Jaiyah Saelua, Thomas begins to understand the team's customs and relates to them on an emotional level.
The team goes to a qualifying match to play against their rival, Tonga. After starting off poorly, Thomas flips out on the team and almost quits until Tavita talks him down. Thomas admits to the team that he has blamed himself for the death of his daughter after she got into a car accident when he wasn't there, and this breakthrough lets him encourage the team to play for fun. American Samoa then scores their first two goals and succeeds in their match against Tonga, although they lose the following match to qualify for the World Cup.
Thomas stays on the island while taking a different job and having a closer bond with the team.