“I did my thinking. It’s crazy — and bananas,” Turner said. “It’s something you wouldn’t think to write, because it would be like: ‘Oh, that’s ridiculous. That’s not true.’ It’s a pretty wild story compared to the people I share the locker room with every day and their upbringing through the game. It’s a unicorn.”
Think about it: He didn’t start playing competitive football until he was 16 years old and he never played for the national youth team. He played in a shadow college (Fairfield University) and was overlooked in the MLS draft. His pro debut came with the lowly Richmond Kickers. He did not make his senior national team until 22 months ago, aged 26.
“I hope it shows someone one day, if they’re hesitant to play the game or not play the game or they think it’s time to do something wise or in their personal life, they can make it,” Turner said.
Turner is a long-term player who has endured, and his journey has taken him in the last six months from the New England Revolution to the Premier League leader Arsenal and, in a few weeks, a leading role in the World Cup.
He became the latest in a long line of US goalkeepers who have found homes in Europe’s top leagues while climbing the national team’s depth chart, joining Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard.
“I coached Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, goalies who played very well [in the Premier League], and Matt can grow to that level,” said Revolution Coach Bruce Arena, a two-time America’s World Cup captain. “Arsenal got themselves a good goalkeeper.”
A closer look at the USMNT roster
Last year, it was expected that Turner and Zack Steffen would fight to start the US job. But when coach Gregg Berhalter announced the roster two weeks ago, Steffen wasn’t on it.
Berhalter didn’t give a specific explanation, but people familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter, said Berhalter felt strongly about Turner being his No. 1 guard with Sean Johnson filling the No. 3 slot.
He then decided that Ethan Horvath was a great fit to step in for Turner on short notice, if necessary. Horvath made the team’s 2021 Concacaf Nations League final, saving a penalty, and was a late player in Nottingham Forest’s Premier League win last spring.
With his position clear ahead of the World Cup, Turner produced one of the horrors of the Group B opener against Wales before Gareth Bale converted an 82nd-minute penalty in a 1-1 draw. He followed Bale’s shot, but because it was hit so hard and away from him, he only managed to catch a glimpse of it.
The Americans will need to beat England on Friday or Iran on Tuesday to advance to the round of 16.
For Turner, Monday’s first assignment took a significant year. In February, as Turner prepared to start his fifth full MLS season, the Revolution agreed to sell him to Arsenal for at least $6 million, effective in June.
Before joining the Gunners, he started two of the US’s four games, adding to a portfolio that includes starting eight of the 14 World Cups in 2021-22. (Steffen started six more.)
Turner didn’t play much for Arsenal. In league play, he served as backup to Aaron Ramsdale, who made England’s World Cup squad.
Turner started Arsenal’s first four 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 went through to the round of 16 in March.
Turner has conceded one goal in four games, including a 1-0 win at Bodo/Glimt, a Norwegian club located north of the Arctic Circle.
“What I find challenging sometimes, as a goalkeeper, training is harder than games,” he said of playing a bigger role. “In training, you see hundreds of actions in each session, and you often fail. It’s hard, mentally and physically. It can be hard to see how far you can go if you don’t have a benchmark of what it looks like in the game.”
It was different in New England, where, after returning from a loan at Richmond, he was the main starter from 2018 onwards.
“The whole week, the week I was in New England, it didn’t matter what I was doing in training,” he said. “I would play, and sports became my identity. So I think it depends on how you deal with the situation you’re in.”
Despite not playing regularly, Turner said he learned a lot in the competitive environment.
Outlook: The draw was good for the USMNT. But at some point, ‘good’ is not good.
He said: “If you don’t come on a certain day, you can be found quickly.” I don’t want to be one of those famous guys.
Turner learned the lesson in one training session.
“Give me the ball, and I showed that I was upset and upset,” he said. Manager Mikel Arteta “pushed me and basically said: ‘I don’t want to see that. I don’t like that reaction. I want to see you pick yourself up and keep going.’
“I think that sets the tone for my mentality at the club and to carry on no matter what happens. If you fail, that’s fine. The important thing is how you react, not the failure itself.”
Turner also learned 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 do. The little nuances of the game are appreciated. It’s like an interactive experience, and the emotions of the fans follow closely to the emotions of the game. It’s really cool. Some games in the US have been written. They tell you in screens so to speak, while things in the Premier League – and in football – can be organic. “
England, who know the weight of expectations, open the World Cup looking good
Despite full-time assignments, Turner strengthened his national team position. Berhalter turned to him in September for the last two matches of the World Cup. Amid the team’s disappointing performances against Japan and Saudi Arabia, Turner was the bright spot.
As long as Turner is fit when training camp opens, he would start against Wales.
It’s a far cry from riding sleeper buses to Richmond games five years ago.
“When I look at my story, I hope kids can see the path,” Turner said. “A guy from the New England Revolution, two, three years ago people couldn’t believe he was doing business with Arsenal, he was starting the season with Arsenal.”
And now in the World Cup, too.
World Cup in Qatar
Current update: European powers take center stage on Wednesday in Qatar, where the World Cup is underway. Follow the latest news, updates and comments.
SMNT: In their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The US men’s national team will face a tall task on Friday against Group B favorite England, which demolished Iran, 6-2. , early Monday.
The Qatar conflict: Soccer fans wearing black, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusion, say they have been denied entry to World Cup stadiums and are confronting members of the public to remove the sign.
Group guide: The US men’s national soccer team, led by Coach Gregg Berhalter and leading striker Christian Pulisic, has won the 2022 World Cup, an improvement from its dismal and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a closer look at how each team’s teams stack up.