“I’ve made up my mind. It’s crazy — even bananas,” Turner said. “It’s stuff you wouldn’t even write about because you’d be like, ‘Oh, that doesn’t make any sense. That’s not real.’ It’s a pretty wild story compared to the people I share a dressing room with every day and their upbringing through the game. It’s a unicorn.”
Consider this: he only started playing football when he was 16 and has never played for a youth national team. He played in the college shadows (Fairfield University) and was ignored in the MLS draft. He made his pro debut with the underclass Richmond Kickers. He made his senior debut just 22 months ago, aged 26.
“I just hope that one day when someone is hesitating about whether or not to play the sport, or when they think it’s time to do something, it will show someone that they can still achieve it. either athletically or in his personal life,” Turner said.
Turner is a late bloomer who has persevered and his journey has taken him from New England Revolution to Premier League leaders Arsenal in the last six months and a leading role at the World Cup for a few weeks.
He became the youngest in a long line of US goalkeepers to be at home in Europe’s top leagues as they climbed the national team depth chart and joined Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard.
“I coached Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller, goalkeepers who played very well [in the Premier League], and Matt can grow to that level,” said Revolution Coach Bruce Arena, a two-time US World Championship boss. “Arsenal have acquired a very good goalkeeper.”
A closer look at the USMNT list
For the past year, the expectation was that Turner and Zack Steffen would fight for the starting job in the US. But when coach Gregg Berhalter announced the squad two weeks ago, Steffen wasn’t even there.
Berhalter didn’t provide a detailed explanation, but people familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter, said Berhalter was adamant that Turner would be his No. 1 goaltender and Sean Johnson the No. 3 would occupy .
He then decided that Ethan Horvath would be best suited to fill in for Turner on short notice if needed. Horvath came on as a substitute in the 2021 Concacaf Nations League final, saving a penalty and being a late substitute in Nottingham Forest’s Premier League promotion win last spring.
With the position settled ahead of the World Cup, Turner made a superb save in the Group B opener against Wales before Gareth Bale converted an 82nd-minute penalty to make it 1-1. He followed Bale’s shot, but because it was hit with such force and flew away from him, he only managed fleeting contact.
The Americans need to beat England on Friday or Iran next Tuesday to have any chance of reaching the round of 16.
For Turner, the start order on Monday crowned a momentous year. As Turner prepared to start his fifth full MLS season last February, Revolution agreed to sell him to Arsenal for at least $6 million, effective June.
Before joining the Gunners, he started two out of four US games, adding to a portfolio that included eight starts in the 14 2021-22 World Cup qualifiers. (Steffen started the other six.)
Turner hasn’t played much at Arsenal, who sit at the top of the Premier League. In the league he has served as a replacement for Aaron Ramsdale, who made the England World Cup squad.
Turner started in Arsenal’s first four group games in the UEFA Europa League – the continent’s second-tier competition – but missed the last two with a groin injury. The Gunners won the group and reached the round of 16 in March.
Turner conceded one goal in those four games, including a 1-0 win at Bodo/Glimt, a Norwegian club north of the Arctic Circle.
“What I found challenging is that training as a goalkeeper is sometimes harder than the game,” he said of the largely backup role. “In training you see hundreds of actions in every session and quite a lot of failures. It’s difficult mentally and physically. It can be difficult to see how far you’ve come if you don’t have the scale of what it looks like in a game.”
Unlike in New England, where he was a regular after returning from a loan to Richmond from 2018.
“Week after week in New England, it didn’t matter what I did in practice,” he said. “I wanted to play and the games became my benchmark. So I think it’s about how you approach the situation you’re in.”
Although Turner doesn’t play regularly, he said he learned immensely in an extremely competitive environment.
Perspective: A tie was good for the USMNT. But at some point “good” is no longer good enough.
“If you don’t bring it on a given day, you’ll be spotted pretty quickly,” he said. “I don’t want to be one of those guys that gets famous.”
Gymnast learned a lesson at a particular training session.
“I gave away a ball and somehow showed that I was frustrated and upset,” he said. Manager Mikel Arteta “pushed me and basically said, ‘I don’t want to see this. I don’t like this reaction. I want to see you pick yourself up and move on.’
“I think that really shaped my mentality within the club, and just keep going no matter what. If you fail, that’s okay. What matters is how you react, not the failure itself.”
Turner has also come to appreciate English football culture.
“It’s very different from sports in the United States,” he said. “They applaud you for the little things you might do. The small nuances of the game are appreciated. It’s like an interactive experience and the emotions of the fans really follow the emotions of the game closely. That is really cool. Some sports in the US are scripted. They tell you on the Screens what to say, while things in the Premier League – and in football – can be a little more organic.”
England, who know the burden of expectations, open the World Cup with a great look
Even without full-time commitments, Turner consolidated his national team status. Berhalter approached him in September for the last two World Cup tunings. Amid disappointing team performances against Japan and Saudi Arabia, Turner was the only bright spot.
As long as Turner was healthy when the training camp opened, he would start against Wales.
It’s a long way from traveling on sleeper buses to playing Richmond away five years ago.
“As I look at my story, I hope kids can see that there is a way,” Turner said. “A guy from the New England Revolution who two, three years ago people wouldn’t even believe was doing business with Arsenal started the season with Arsenal.”
And now also in the World Cup.
World Cup in Qatar
Live Updates: European powers take center stage in Qatar on Wednesday, where World Cup group matches resume. Follow us for the latest news, updates and highlights.
USMNT: On their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw with Wales in their Group B opener defeated Iran 6-2 on Monday.
Qatar controversy: Football fans who wear the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, have said they have been denied entry into World Cup stadiums and have been confronted by the public to remove the emblem.
Group leader: The USA men’s soccer team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, has qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement on a disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 season. Here’s a close look at how all the teams in each group are faring stack.