Stream It or Skip It: ‘A Winning Team’ on Hallmark Pairs an Aggressive Pro with a Small Town Hunk
Hallmark heads into spring with the soccer-themed A Winning Team starring Nadia Hatta (Away) and Kristoffer Polaha (We Wish You a Married Christmas). Yeah, this is a Hallmark romance that’s also a sports movie! But does A Winning Team score a goal or are we calling foul?
The Gist: Nadia Hatta plays Emily Chen, a professional soccer player who’s equal parts hotshot and hothead. Not even being a decorated soccer pro with the most goals in the league can make up for her having a royally bad attitude. Emily gets suspended indefinitely following another altercation with a referee, which leads her back home to the Seattle suburbs (why are all of these movies in Seattle now??) and her brother (Raugi Yu) and niece Ava (Niki Garcia). It’s been a while since Emily’s been home, not since the death of her best friend and sister-in-law. But now she’s back in town just in time to watch her niece’s soccer team’s attempt to make it to the finals.
But there’s one problem: in an attempt to show off on the field, overzealous Emily totally KO’d Ava’s coach Ian (Kristoffer Polaha), leaving him on crutches. Who can help him take the team to victory? It’s only fitting that Emily pitch in, even if she’s never coached before and Ian has a much more chill approach. While these two have opposing ideologies, especially when it comes to Emily’s win-or-else attitude, they find themselves drifting closer and closer together. Will Emily let the goalie guarding her heart hit the bench? And will Ian fall for the woman who literally knocked him off of his feet?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: There is a lot of Mighty Ducks in here, if the focus was shifted away from the sport almost entirely and towards romance. One has to wonder if Hallmark was savvy enough to schedule this movie for the weekend after the return of Ted Lasso on Apple TV+. Seems like a smart move, especially if you want more soccer content on TV that isn’t an actual soccer game.
Performance Worth Watching: She’s not in the movie nearly enough, but Marci T. House absolutely crushes as Emily’s professional soccer league coach. She’s an intimidating powerhouse who’s taken up knitting to keep her calm but it’s just ticking her off even more!
Memorable Dialogue: After losing at trivia, Emily growls, “I don’t want consolation wings. I want victory wings.” Also Gen Z culture is coming to Hallmark! Emily’s niece measures time by Taylor Swift albums, there’s a TikTok mention, and slang like “low-key” and “sus” are said. I’m sorry to all the kids but I think that means those terms are over (but I’m low-key allowed to continue using them because I’m already out of touch).
Our Take: As the year goes on, it’s fun seeing Hallmark adapt to the changing seasons and play around with tones and genre. A Winning Team may be the first sports movie I’ve personally seen on Hallmark, and I was impressed by how well the opening soccer scene was executed. I’m so used to seeing candy shops and small town main streets on this channel, I didn’t know they could pull off a soccer arena. Well done!
That being said, I actually wish that A Winning Team had more soccer in it. Even with the most standard Hallmark plot there is (professional woman returns to small town and falls for a local hunk), A Winning Team has a bit of oomf and bravado at first. Emily is one of the most aggressive Hallmark leads we’ve had — or maybe the most, considering that her meet-cute with Ian leaves him hobbling along for half the movie. The movie sets up a fun dynamic between the winning-is-everything Emily and the let’s-enjoy-the-experience Ian, but that dynamic ends up feeling like untapped potential.
A lot of A Winning Team is spent off of the soccer field — like at a bar trivia night or a ropes course. Ava gets an entire subplot about wanting to try acting that distracts from, y’know, the soccer. There are so many fun beats from the sports movie genre that A Winning Team could have added in — like intimidating teen rivals, the team following Emily’s teachings over Ian’s to disastrous results, or a nerdy kid who ends up being an unflinching goalie superstar — instead of hitting the same beats that we see in most Hallmark movies. Polaha and Hatta are good together as a couple, but it seems like there could have been more to explore by contrasting their coaching styles with their different outlooks on life and romantic history.
This isn’t important, but I do feel the need to point this out as I’m the one who bestowed Mr. Polaha with the honor of having the handsomest hairline on Hallmark: Ian’s shaggy mess of a haircut is so distracting and it actively hides Polaha for the first minutes he’s on screen. He looks like a completely different man — which seems like a wild choice. When you cast Kristoffer Polaha, you want him to be at his most Polaha.
None of this is to say that A Winning Team is an outright loss. There are fun moments (any time Emily’s brother pops up) and Emily’s relationship with her niece is heartwarming. But instead of leaning into a new genre more, like a lot of recent Hallmark movies have, A Winning Team pretty much sticks to the rule book.
Our Call: SKIP IT. A Winning Team plays it too safe instead of going for the gold.