“I did my reflection. It’s crazy — even bananas,” Turner said. “It’s something you can’t even think about writing about because it’s like, ‘Oh, that doesn’t even make sense. That’s not true.’ “It’s a wild experience compared to the people I’m in the locker room with every day and what they’ve been brought up through the game. It’s a unicorn.”
Note: He didn’t start playing competitive soccer until he was 16 and didn’t play for the youth team. He played in a shadow college (Fairfield University) and was overlooked in the MLS draft. His professional debut was with the lower division Richmond Kickers. He did not make his debut for the national team until 22 months ago, at the age of 26.
“I hope that someday this will show somebody that if they’re wavering on whether or not to play sports or if they think it’s time to do something in their athletic or personal life, they can still go for it,” Turner said.
Turner is a resilient late bloomer and his journey has taken him from the New England Revolution over the past six months to Premier League leaders Arsenal and a starring role at the World Cup for weeks.
He joins Casey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard as the latest American goaltenders to climb the national team’s depth chart and find a home in Europe’s top leagues.
“I coached Brad Friedel, Casey Keller, goaltenders who played very well [in the Premier League]and Matt can grow to that level,” said Revolution coach Bruce Arena, the owner of the two-time World Cup winner USA. “Arsenal got themselves a very good goalkeeper.”
A closer look at the USMNT roster
Last year, Turner and Zach Steffen were expected to compete for the new U.S. job. But when coach Gregg Berhalter announced the roster two weeks ago, Steffen was not on it.
Berhalter did not elaborate, but people familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter, said Berhalter felt strongly that Turner was his No. 1 guard and Sean Johnson filled the No. 3 slot.
He then decided that Ethan Horvath was the best fit to step in for Turner at short notice if needed. Horvath saved a penalty spot in the 2021 Concacaf Nations League final and came last in Nottingham Forest’s Premier League promotion win last spring.
With his position clear ahead of the World Cup, Turner made a stunning save against Wales in their Group B opener before Gareth Bale converted an 82nd-minute penalty to draw the game 1-1. He watched for Bale’s strike, but the bullet hit with such venom that it bounced away from him, and he could only manage a glint.
The Americans must beat England on Friday or Iran next Tuesday to have any chance of advancing to the round of 16.
Monday’s starting assignment marked an important year for Turner. In February, as Turner prepared to begin his fifth full MLS season, the Revolution agreed to sell him to Arsenal for at least $6 million.
Before joining the Gunners, he started two of the USA’s four matches, adding to a portfolio that included eight of the 14 World Cup qualifiers for 2021-22. (Steffen started the other six.)
Turner didn’t play much at Arsenal. In league play, he served as back-up to England’s World Cup squad Aaron Ramsdale.
Turner started Arsenal’s first four group matches in the UEFA Europa League – the continent’s second-tier competition – but missed the last two games with a groin injury. The Gunners won their group and reached the round of 16 in March.
Turner has conceded one goal in four games, including a 1-0 win over Bodo/Glimt, just north of Norway’s Arctic Circle.
“The thing I find difficult is that sometimes training as a goalkeeper is more difficult than the games,” he said of his mainly reserve role. “In training, you do hundreds of attempts every session and often fail. It’s hard, mentally and physically. It can be hard to see how far you’ve come if you don’t know what it looks like in-game.”
It was different in New England, where he was the primary starter from 2018 after returning from a loan to Richmond.
“It doesn’t matter what I do in practice every week in New England,” he said. “I was going to play and the games became my benchmark. So I think it’s all about how you deal with the situation you’re in.
Despite not playing regularly, Turner said he learned a lot in the highly competitive environment.
Outlook: The draw was good for the USMNT. But sometimes “good” isn’t good enough.
“If you don’t bring it one day, you’ll soon find out,” he said. “I don’t want to be one of those famous guys.”
Turner took lessons in a specific training course.
“I gave the ball away and I showed that I was upset and upset,” he said. Manager Mikel Arteta “pushed me and said, ‘I don’t want to see it. I don’t like that reaction. I want to see you pick yourself up and keep going.”
“I think it really set the tone for my mentality at the club and to just keep going no matter what. If you fail, that’s okay. The most important thing is not the failure itself, but your reaction.”
Turner also learned to appreciate English football culture.
“It’s very different than sports in the United States,” he said. “They applaud you for the little things. The little nuances of the game are appreciated. Similar to this interactive experience, the emotions of the fans are truly connected to the emotions of the game. It’s really cool. Some sports in the US are scripted. They will tell you It shows what needs to be said, whereas things in the Premier League and football can be a bit organic.
Knowing how high expectations are, England will open the World Cup with a bang
Even without full-time assignments, Turner has cemented his status as a national team player. Berhalter approached him in September to adjust the last two World Cups. Turner was the lone bright spot amid the team’s disappointing performances against Japan and Saudi Arabia.
When training camp opened, Turner was set to face Wales once he was fit.
It’s a long way from riding sleeper buses to Richmond’s away matches five years ago.
“I hope kids can look at my story and see that there is a way,” Turner said. “A guy who, two or three years before the New England Revolution, would never have believed people were doing business with Arsenal, was starting the season with Arsenal.”
And now, as well, in the World Cup.
The World Cup held in Qatar
Live Updates: European powers took center stage as the World Cup group stage continued in Qatar on Wednesday. Follow the latest news, updates and highlights.
USMNT: Back at the World Cup, the young Americans drew 1-1 with Wales in their Group B opener. The U.S. men’s national team faces a bigger task against Group B favorite England, who defeated Iran 6-2 on Monday morning.
row dispute: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, said they were banned from World Cup stadiums and protested against members of the public to remove the emblem.
Group guide: Led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, the U.S. men’s national team qualified for the 2022 World Cup, improving on its dismal and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a closer look at how all the teams in each group stack up.