Matt Turner was named to the USMNT shortlist for the 2022 World Cup, which was played at Fairfield University

Matt Turner was named to the USMNT shortlist for the 2022 World Cup, which was played at Fairfield University

It’s really amazing to have a kid who didn’t start playing football until the age of 14 to be on the USMNT World Cup squad roster, not to mention an expected starting goalkeeper.

But that’s exactly what happened to former Fairfield University goalkeeper Matt Turner, who was named to the US men’s national team squad for the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday night. The United States opens play in Group B on November 21 against Wales.

To fully understand Turner’s journey, one must go back to the time when Turner was sitting at home watching Arsenal and dreaming of playing at the Emirates Stadium.

At the time, he didn’t even own a pair of shoes. Turner grew up playing basketball and baseball, two sports that required vastly different abilities. However, he longed to play the beautiful game, so at the age of fourteen, he decided to start one of the biggest uphill battles of his life.

It is almost impossible to start any sport at this age, let alone football as most kids start kicking the ball when they are five or six years old. Turner took over goalkeeping which allowed him to take advantage of the hand-eye coordination he established from his aforementioned sports. But goalkeepers don’t use their gloves throughout the game – it’s the ultimate in football – so Turner needed to learn correct footwork and make accurate passes. And learn quickly.

Because if Turner wanted to seriously play football at a high level, the clock would surely have been ticking against him. A few years after the sport started, he would email coaches in the area to come watch him play in tournaments for a chance to compete at the university level. Fairfield was one of the only programs that decided to screen the child.

“He was a diamond in the rough, basically someone we thought had potential, but not as big as he is now. He was very athletic, but technically not trained you know, because he started,” said Javier Decima, the goalkeeper coach at Fairfield. Too late.”

Fortunately for Turner, his athletic abilities couldn’t be taught – combined with a 6-foot-3 frame – and he was skilled enough to withstand an offer from Fairfield.

“Everyone sees the player, you can see his potential in him and he was not like him, he plays at a fantastic level,” said Decima. “He did really well (in a clinic in Fairfield), it wasn’t great. But I was like, ‘Let’s give it a chance. Let’s bring it in (and) develop it. We have number one already. But we need someone to develop it.'”

“I think we were like one of the only schools that made him an offer to play in Division 1. So we’re glad we did.”

Receiving the offer was one thing, but becoming a reliable goalkeeper on the pitch was another conquest entirely. Turner still had to master the basics, skills that most players of his age had mastered. As a result, it took him two years for him to see the pitch as a Fairfield goalkeeper.

“His jobs were very explosive. He had a good chassis, he had a goalkeeper (body) model. He just exploded, you know, he actually led the nation in clean sheets and saved the percentage that year,” Decima said.

Once he proved worthy of the lead role, Turner began to have serious conversations with Decima regarding his desire to play professionally. He wasn’t close to one of the top players, but he had the vision and perseverance to continue playing after college.

“I remember it was a conversation we had in the old Rafferty Stadium and then (Turner) like ‘Listen, I want to try and see if I can play professionally’ and at that time, you think he has the potential,” the Decimal said.

“But being professional is fair, the timing has to be right. Everything has to be fine. You have to get a chance (and) he was able to do it. Then the rest is history. It’s where he is now because of his mentality.”

Turner went without drafting in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft but that wasn’t a deterrent. He kept his picking skills thinking that an opportunity loomed on the horizon.

“First year (in) college, he might be very tempting. But (Turner) dried up all season. He trained twice a day, he hit the gym twice a day,” Decima said. To go and get an experience with New England, and he’s ready to go.”

Sure enough, when the New England Revolution reached out to Turner for a chance to attend a pre-season experience, he was ready to give it a shot. Turner impressed the club enough that New England signed the unpolished goalkeeper.

Over the course of five years, Turner’s performance has improved marginally in each season. Focusing on a specific part of his game to achieve perfection, he gradually improved from year to year. In 2018, Turner was named the revolution’s primary goalkeeper. Every year after that he has gotten closer and closer to being seen as the best goalkeeper in the league.

“It’s scary to see that every passing year he’s getting better. There are things in his game that are still improving and will continue to improve,” Decima said.

By 2021, Turner had some of the best performances of his career to date and was named the NBA Most Valuable Goalkeeper, becoming the first goalkeeper in New England history to do so.

By this time, he had built the confidence and skill to experience the USMNT and like Decima said, the rest is history.

Turner made his international debut for the United States on January 31, 2021 when he secured a starting position in goal. He will start in all six of America’s games in the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup, score five clean sheets, and be named “best goalkeeper” of the tournament.

“They chose (the United States) to go to the World Cup and I think he made his mark on being called up to the national team for the World Cup. Number one is a dream come true to go to the World Cup. But imagine that even if he had the chance to start, I mean, like, it’s amazing to even think of That is,” said Decima.

But the fulfillment of one of his dreams was not enough for Turner.

While watching the growth of the Premier League, Turner dreamed of playing for Arsenal. With his USMNT credit, Turner has done what many of his teammates have done: travel across the pond and try to compete against stronger, more efficient players. So he experimented with the club, and I think he has nothing to lose.

Arsenal signed Turner in February, and what was once a dream, a conversation with a beloved coach, has become his new reality.

Turner’s career may have started ‘late’ with a very quiet build-up to his level of play now. But his work ethic and sportsmanship allowed Turner to realize his dreams, representing America on the world’s largest stage and playing for the football club he fell in love with from a young age.

“He devoted himself to the craft and had a chance and when the opportunity presents itself, he does not look back,” said Decima.

He is careful. He is hungry. It is dedicated. And he will continue to do well because of that.”

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