Hallmark’s “A Winning Team” Is All About Soccer, But Star Kristoffer Polaha Says He’s More Of A Football Guy

And that’s Alabama football, to be exact!

Kristoffer Polaha A Winning Team

©2023 Hallmark Media/ Allister Foster

If you love soccer or are a Ted Lasso fan, then we have the movie for you. Hallmark’s new original feature, A Winning Team is the ideal rom-com for fans of the world’s game.

The story centers around the rapidly unraveling life of professional soccer player Emily Chen, played by Nadia Hatta in her debut for the network. Emily has gotten used to being the star player and she is consumed by winning. But her attitude is definitely not that of a humble champion. She is suspended indefinitely from her team for poor sportsmanship. Emily heads back to her hometown to spend her unplanned free time with her widowed brother and her teenage niece, Ava. Emily has a chance encounter with Ava’s soccer coach, Ian, that results in an injury for the volunteer coach. Ava’s team has a real shot at the championship so Emily agrees to fill in for Coach Ian, played by Hallmark veteran Kristoffer Polaha (who has recently been spending a lot of time in the South). Emily and Ian clash at first but as they learn to work together, they also grow closer off the pitch. 

Southern Living recently spoke with Polaha who explained that Ian isn’t your typical romantic heart throb. He’s been through some things and has some deep wounds. As does Emily. They are both characters who’ve experienced a lot of life and are carrying a little more baggage. Emily has sacrificed all personal relationships and had tunnel vision on winning. Ian is still recovering from a broken marriage and unfulfilled aspirations. Polaha spoke about his different approach to this leading man. He wore his hair brushed down and slightly disheveled and his wardrobe for this movie is much less polished. “When you’re young there’s this whole idea of, I’m gonna play charming, and I’m gonna be likable, and I want to be sexy and then you hit this stage in your life, and there’s other stuff. There’s more story to tell about the human condition.” 

A Winning Team Ian and Emily

©2023 Hallmark Media/ Allister Foster

He explained how when creating their characters, he and Hatta discussed how Emily was so much more accomplished than Ian was. They explored why there would be this attraction between these two characters who seemed so mismatched. “So that smallness, I think I wanted to really accentuate it. And then what happens when somebody [who] everybody thinks is a loser is actually a winner? And what does that look like? Are you smart enough to recognize a winner cloaked in sort of a loser’s clothing?”

Beyond the love story and the evolution of these two characters, this is also a sports movie. Move over, Hoosiers, here comes the Purple Thunder. “Working with those girls was a lot of fun. They brought this element to the project that made it feel very like a camp. Tons of comradery and their parents were on set. It just made it feel like a big family affair,” Polaha said. 

A Winning Team Purple Thunder

©2023 Hallmark Media/ Allister Foster

Coaching girls soccer was not something the father of three sons had any real world experience doing. In his real life, Polaha said another sport reigns supreme. 

“Soccer and I are strangers to be really dead honest. We are a football family. We, of all things, are a Crimson Tide family. My dad, which granted he’s Notre Dame, he’s Fighting Irish but the boys’ other grandpa, the kids are all Alabama football kids.”

In fact, while he has not ever coached soccer, Polaha has donned the coach’s whistle for his kids’ YMCA football team. “The first year they played, we lost like every game. But I coached the same exact kids for 5 years in a row and that 5th year we won the championship. And every year we would get closer and closer and closer until we finally won the whole thing. Honestly it’s one of the highlights of my fathering life. I’m like, ‘oh yeah remember that time we went from zero to hero?’”

Tune in to watch Polaha’s character Ian go from zero to hero in A Winning Team, premiering on Hallmark Channel on March 18.

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