Gracie is an underdog story set against the back drop of high school soccer. The movie is loosely based on the lives of actors Andrew Shue (who played professional soccer) and Elisabeth Shue (who played on boys soccer teams until she was 13). In the 1980's the Shue family did lose their oldest son in an accident.
Johnny Bowen is a star on the Columbia High School soccer team in South Orange, New Jersey, in 1978. The movie opens with a bet that involves kicking a soccer ball and hitting a bottle perched on the hood of a car, twenty yards away. Johnny coaches his sister Gracie through the mechanics of the kick. When she says that it is too much to remember, he tells her, "Take your time...you can do anything". At the sound of the bottle smashing on impact, we hear the classic rock song, "Don't Look Back" by Boston as we watch Johnny and Gracie gleefully dribbling and passing a soccer ball to each other throughout 1978 South Orange, New Jersey.
When they get home, they are met by their father, Bryan Bowen (played by Dermot Mulroney), who is annoyed that Johnny is late to his coaching session. While two younger Bowen boys take part in the practice on a makeshift soccer pitch in the Bowen's driveway, the father is dismissive of Gracie's desire to take part as well. Bryan Bowen is a working man who we learn has played soccer himself and is now immersed in Johnny's soccer career.
The night of the big game against rival Kingston High School, Bryan Bowen is nervous as he instructs Johnny how to stretch and when to stretch. During the big game, Johnny scores for Columbia, but during the shootout, Johnny hits the crossbar, losing the game. After the game, Gracie waits for her brother to come out of the locker room to comfort him. As they exit the locker room, Johnny puts his arm around Gracie in understated thanks. However, still upset, he gets into his teammates' car. The next shot is of the reflection of red police lights flashing on Gracie's bedroom ceiling. We learn that Johnny has died in a car accident.
At the final team dinner, Bryan Bowen tells the rest of the team that Johnny loved playing soccer and exhorts them to beat Kingston next season because that is what Johnny would have wanted. "Do it for Johnny", he tells them. The next morning, when Gracie announces that she will play varsity soccer and take Johnny's spot on the team with her Dad's coaching, her younger brothers and father all laugh at her. Outside in the rain, Bryan Bowen proves that Gracie is not even good enough to beat her younger brother. When Gracie tearfully asks for her Dad's help, he refuses telling her, "It's this simple. You're not tough enough. They're gonna cream you".
Winter passes, and the soccer net in the Bowen's yard falls into disrepair. Gracie loses interest in school and starts smoking. When she dresses provocatively to go out, her father barely notices. Grace's mom (played by Elisabeth Shue), tells her husband, "You still have three other children". On a date with Kyle, the captain of the soccer team, Grace asks if he thinks a girl can play, to which he laughs.
Determined to prove that she is tough enough, Gracie begins training alone. With Bruce Springsteen's, "Growing Up" in the background, we see Gracie running and sneaking into the boy's weight room and getting stronger. In an effort to get close to the soccer team, she continues to date Kyle, the soccer captain who treats her badly. We learn that Grace cheated on an exam and is on academic probation. During the summer, Grace steals the family car and goes to a club on the Jersey shore. When her father finds her in the car with a strange man, he brings her home and sets up a meeting with the high school soccer coach. The coach tells them there is no girls soccer team, and it is up to the school board whether or not Gracie can try out for the boys varsity soccer team. Bryan Bowen agrees to train Gracie, telling her, "I don't know if you are good enough but let me help you".
Bryan Bowen agrees to train Gracie but initially focuses just on conditioning, not believing that she will ever make the team. Realizing she has to start training with boys, Gracie gets into a pick-up soccer game but is manhandled by the boys. Gracie then learns that the school board has denied her request to play soccer. Bryan Bowen tells Gracie that the coach agreed to let her play field hockey. Angry, Gracie tracks down the School Board Chairwoman who agrees to hold a hearing. At the hearing, the women's coach tells the Board that Title IX provides money for a girls soccer team, but there is no interest, "because soccer is not considered a girls sport". Kyle, the boy soccer captain, says that the team would be afraid to play hard if she was on the team, adding, "Just because she's Johnny's sister and he died, doesn't mean she should play." Gracie's mom makes an emotional appeal, telling the committee that her daughter is "fierce...She loves to win. She loves competing." After a split vote, the Chairwoman decides that Gracie can tryout, but it is up to the coach if she makes the boys varsity team.
At grueling all day tryouts, Grace survives three cuts, including being roughed up by Kyle, only to learn that she is awarded a spot on the junior varsity squad, a first for any girl. Then she learns that her father was offered a coaching job. Bitter, Grace tells her father she won't do it. She quits. Bryan Bowen tells his daughter, "Johnny played more for me than he did for himself. You're different...You truly love this game." Thinking that he is just appeasing her, Gracie still threatens to quit. Flustered, her father angrily tells her, "Quit because you're not good enough, but don't quit because you got your feelings hurt." He then tells her that she has to dig deep to prove to everyone else that she is good enough.
Swallowing her pride, Gracie begins practicing with the JV squad and logs long hours afterwards practicing penalty shots. When the coach tells her to suit up for the big game against Kingston, Grace thinks the coach just wants her to be a token bench warmer. In sudden death, with the score tied, Kyle draws a penalty kick. Coach puts Gracie in to take the free kick. Grace thinks about everything her brother taught her, lines up her shot, and makes a strong kick, which is blocked by the goalie. Shaking off her disbelief, Gracie gets her head back in the game but gets knocked down several times by the larger Kingston players. Digging deep, Gracie calls for the ball, powers her way around several defenders, avoids slide tackles, and scores the winning goal.