'Ted Lasso' and its Cristiano Ronaldo moment: How the hit show strives to get the soccer right

Dunster, left, did an impressive move in tribute to a Ronaldo free kick. Sudeikis and the rest of the cast were impressed by the move. Apple TV+ press
Phil Dunster was channeling his inner Cristiano Ronaldo when he took his free kick from 45 yards to play the role of Jamie Tartt, fictional AFC Richmond striker. He didn't realize how Ronaldo he was channeling.

Dunster wanted Ronaldo's free kick goal in the Champions League semifinal against Arsenal to be recreated. This feat defied physics, odds and Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia. The 29-year old Dunster was filming last spring at Hayes and Yeading United F.C.. This was just down the street from West London Film Studios, where "Ted Lasso", which won seven Emmys, was shot. He was trying to recreate one of the most difficult shots in soccer and also trying to imitate one of the greatest scorers the game has ever witnessed.

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Tartt was Dunster's character on the show. He's portrayed as an arrogant but very skilled Premier League player. Dunster relied on his soccer skills as a child to pull off the shot. Dunster is an actor, despite being a passionate soccer fan and an avid supporter of AFC Wimbledon in England's League One. Dunster knew in his heart that if he kicked a convincing kick, the shot could be guided to the net using computer-generated imagery (CGI). This was followed by the addition of the stadium, fans, and other elements that complete the scene.

This scene is crucial to Episode 6 Season 2. The actors playing Dunster's AFC Richmond team were told to react as though the shot had been in. It would have given AFC Richmond a 1-0 advantage over Tottenham Hotspur in an FA Cup quarterfinal.

Dunster said that his eyes had probably been closed throughout the entire process. Dunster spoke from his West London kitchen to ESPN. Dunster took the first approach, placed the ball on the ground, then stood wide-legged and took a deep inhale.

The next step, similar to Ronaldo's 2009 kick, was a defiance of everything.

It was accepted.

Dunster stated, "There was no one on the field more shocked than I,"

Brendan Hunt, creator/writer, was next to Pedro Romhanyi (soccer director) and couldn't believe it.

Hunt said that while the goalie may not be doing his best, Hunt also plays Coach Beard. He is Ted Lasso's assistant coach. Jason Sudeikis was another creator/writer. "Not many guys can do this, especially one who doesn't have to because he is an actor. He's more than an actor. He's also an excellent footballer and this was one of the most memorable moments of the season."

The reactions of the other actors weren't fake. It was real and honest. There was much confusion about "Wait, Phil did that?" Dunster recalled that Phil did not do that. Hunt added: "Suddenly they didn't need to act at all." It was like everyone was losing their f---ing s ---. It was so cool.

Dunster attempted to match Ronaldo's seeming impossible goal against Arsenal in 2009's Champions League semifinal with a long-range set piece. liewig Christian/Corbis via Getty Images

Romhanyi set a goal for the show to make the soccer segments as real as possible. Romhanyi has seen shows that didn't make the sports action seem real. Romhanyi was aware of other shows that did this, so he wanted to do it right.

Romhanyi stated that "if you get the sport wrong it's almost as if the suspension of disbelief becomes ruptured for the viewer." "So, it's no longer possible to participate in a dramatic piece. It was crucial for us to make the experience as simple and credible as possible. Romhanyi estimated that the chances of a professional scoring from that distance were 1-in-100. What are the odds that Dunster will score from this distance?

"Zero," Romhanyi said. Romhanyi said, "It shouldn't have been in. Yeah, I mean, yeah, zero."

After Dunster's goal, everything on the set was stopped. Hunt stated, "We all rejoiced." Hunt said that his first instinct was to run to the "video village", which was just off the field to see a replay. Hunt laughed as he pulled out his phone and said, "I just knew it had been recorded for posterity."

Hunt kept the video on his phone for five months. He waited for the episode's airing on Aug. 27, before sharing it. Hunt shared the uncut footage of Dunster's Ronaldo-esque goal to the world three days later. Dunster didn’t care -- in fact, he was excited about the footage getting out and Hunt knew that he had to share it "to make everyone f---ing aware of what just happened here."

#TedLasso is a mild spoiler...

What is Tartt's goal in S2E6 From "too far"

This #bts footage by @phildunster may be shoddy. I am sorry, but it is not altered. pic.twitter.com/WRGvQtQDVa Brendan Hunt (@brendanhunting) August 31, 2021

The final product was flawless, professional and entertaining TV. Post-production added a stadium filled with raucous fans to make the scene feel more real than if someone were sitting on their couch watching Premier League games. It took a lot of planning, coincidence, and a lot of studying to get to this point. There was a lot of studying.

As Hunt stated, Episode 6 of Season 2's script was created in collaboration between Sudeikis and Hunt, along with fellow creators and writers Joe Kelly, Bill Lawrence, and Brett Goldstein, the episode's guest writer. Brett Goldstein plays Roy Kent, an angry but tender former soccer player who has a love for F-bombs. Hunt said that the group wrote most of the episode together before Goldstein, who won the Primetime Emmy Award as Outstanding Supporting Actor In a Comedy Series, finished it off.

Although the goal was always going be in the script, it was not clear how it would be scored. Early in the writing process, it was decided that it should not be long-distance. Free kicks, no matter how far from the goal, can be quite dramatic. There is a pause between the action and the goal. The wall is a barrier that divides the defenders. The kicker first sets up his team, then he himself. Hunt stated, "It's almost like time stops for a second shooter."

Romhanyi's job basically is to take the soccer ideas of writers, no matter how ridiculous they may be -- such as scoring a free goal with an "impossible flight distance", and make them real. Kelly told Romhanyi that he wanted the free kick to exist on the edge of fantasy and reality when they first discussed the shot. You could argue that it could happen and you could also argue that it wouldn't. "We are on the brink."

Hunt is an Arsenal fan and has been the official soccer expert on set. Dunster called him the "go to person". Brendan's football knowledge is unbelievable, almost unheard of. It's almost alarming. He's the one who knows all that stuff. Romhanyi stated that Hunt supporters are called "trainspotters" by the English. This is why Hunt was the first person Dunster approached with the idea of recreating Ronaldo’s 2009 free kick.

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Hunt was well aware of this fact. Hunt was living in Los Angeles at the time and the best place to catch European soccer was at a bar. He was there on May 5, 2009 as three young United supporters watched their beloved Arsenal take on Manchester United. Manchester United won 3-1. Hunt was there to watch the game with three young United fans.

Hunt said that Ronaldo's shot from that match was being brought up by Dunster. Romhanyi recognized it as the perfect kick because Tartt's arrogance and Tartt's ego match up almost perfectly. Romhanyi was not convinced that Dunster could do the trick, and it wasn't because of Dunster but Ronaldo.

Romhanyi said that Ronaldo "almost defies gravity." It's amazing to see. Dunster then threw Romhanyi an curveball, well, a puck. He wanted to do the same knuckleball kick Ronaldo did.

Romhanyi stated, "To be truthful, I couldn’t teach him that." Everyone thinks they are able to hit a knuckleball. But very few people can, which is why it is so rare. It was a great choice of skill for a star player. Phil made the right decision and I supported him. He's a skilled sportsman with a great sense of detail and a keen eye for detail.

"I didn't think it would reach the goal. It won't.

Dunster discovered that a knuckleball, which is essentially a floating ball, was not as simple as it appeared. It floats through air and instead of rotating like a kick, changing its direction toward the goal. Dunster stated, "Spoiler! It's really hard to do the knuckleball." Romhanyi stated that "What we can't pretend is the acting."

Dunster (left) was there with the crew at Sunday's Emmys as the show received seven awards. Jay L. Clendenin/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Dunster, while he could not figure out the knuckleball but he could look like a Premier League-level player. Before he started playing rugby, he played for the Woodley Hammers, a Reading team that is 41 miles west. Dunster started playing soccer again about six to seven years ago. He now plays on Wednesdays and most Mondays across London. He can see that his 5-a-side opponents are disappointed in Tartt's performance in real life.

Dunster joked that he hadn't broken any ankles yet. "They are like, Is that Jamie Tartt?" They then say, "Is that Jamie Tartt?" It's just someone who looks like him and isn't as good at soccer as him. Dunster follows the AFC Wimbledon and all of English soccer as any other fan. Like most people, Dunster reads, listens and absorbs as much information possible. However, he quickly forgets everything. Hunt might not be as obsessed as Hunt, but Hunt is just as passionate about Hunt. He said, "I've always loved watching it." It's something I have always enjoyed. It's something I enjoy talking about and playing.

Dunster studied Ronaldo’s kick carefully before filming. Romhanyi stated that he knew it was a significant moment. He knew exactly what he wanted. He knew what he wanted to do: the step-back, the laying the scene down, and how he would talk to his friends. Romhanyi stated that Dunster spent the day rehearsing the scene. He was "nowhere close" to the goal. Toheeb, who plays Sam, as well as Billy Harris, who plays Colin, came to Dunster the day before with support words and a pat on his back. He was able to relax knowing that CGI was an option, but he still wanted it right.

Dunster stated that Dunster's face looked like "Oh, f " when the package arrived. But he quickly snapped out and tried to make it work as Tartt would have. Cool, man. The final cut did not include Dunster's reaction nor a complete cut of the shot. Romhanyi and Hunt pushed for it to include both. Hunt even sent Sudeikis a text, lobbying for the entire shot to be included. They realized the dramatic effect of their final edit which included a wide shot and close-ups of the ball, as well as a shot behind Dunster's net.

It did more than just make great TV. It brought life back to a set. The soccer scenes are usually shot in separate locations from the rest of the show over the course of one week. Days can get long. Hunt stated that "mild drudgery” can set in. Dunster's kick made this possible.

Romhanyi laughed and said, "It probably saved at least an hour-and-a-half, [maybe] two on the shooting schedule." Romhanyi joked that it was like there might be a God who looks after us.

Hunt said that everyone on the set felt better. However, the final cut did not include any of Ronaldo's genuine celebration. This was Dunster's fault. As Ronaldo watched the shot, Dunster kept seeing Rio Ferdinand, a Manchester United teammate, grab Ronaldo's jaw as Ronaldo celebrated the goal. Dunster loved the moment and told Harris, who plays Colin, to do it with him. When Dunster made it, Colin did.

Dunster and many of the cast have football skills. However, they all admit that their real-life achievements pale in comparison with their roles. Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Dunster, who was able to look back at the shot, called it "the greatest mistake of my career" and stated that it is still "astonishing" that it occurs. He said that no one was more shocked than him.

Dunster cracked a joke when Dunster was asked about Sudeikis' opinion of the shot. "I believe he said verbatim, "Wow, that was the best thing I have ever seen in all my life." There is nothing better. Phil, you are the best. Maybe I dreamed it. I don't know. Dunster smiled and said, "I don't recall now."

"I don’t know if the man was there that day!" He was most likely creating the show. He did come up later and said, "I heard that you scored that." It's incredible. "I was just like, "Thank you."

Since its inception, the show has strived to make soccer as real as possible. Romhanyi stated that only one goal from Season 2 was changed in post-production. The opposing teams, however, are comprised of semi-professionals. In an arena where drama is not the dominant theme, the action allows characters to continue their stories.

Romhanyi stated that football "gives you a physical externalization" of inner problems. It's not a football match. It's more than "Oh, he did an excellent tackle,"

AFC Richmond actors had to submit video of themselves playing soccer in order to be considered for auditions. Dunster was one of those who did not. Although the ability to play soccer is different among the cast members, there are still some good natural players. Cristo Fernandez (who plays Dani Rojas) was at Estudiantes Tecos U.A.G. Cristo Fernandez, who plays Dani Rojas in Mexico, was at Estudiantes Tecos U.A.G. before his knee injury ended all of his professional dreams. Romhanyi mentioned Jimoh, Kola Bokinni (who plays Isaac), as well as Mohammed Hashim (who plays Moe Bumbercatch), who were among the top players.

Romhanyi stated that "these guys have all played at a decent level and they're quite good." They have their mindset. They know what they should do, and they have the benefit of practice so they can execute it.

Romhanyi will adapt the moves of actors to their strengths. He'll also adjust filming if an actor feels he is able to do one move better than another. The rehearsals usually begin with a walk-through. As the filming day progresses, the pace picks up. Next, the details are added. How should a player pull his shirt if he is marking another player? What should they do?

Romhanyi stated that it helps that the majority of the cast are "football obsessed." They are familiar with how players party, argue and cheat. He noticed that actors often fine-tune their moves the night after rehearsal by adding accents of their characters' personalities to their moves. The soccer is a soccer match when the lights are on and cameras are rolling.

Romhanyi stated that they do everything possible to make the event as authentic as possible. Romhanyi said, "Our job it to make it work at a sporting level where the credibility and the momentum of ball and the physics are fluid, so that it looks credible." It's okay to go along with it.

It has worked so far.