Matt Turner ticketed for Premier League after unlikely rise to stardom

By Dylan Butler | Posted 10 months ago

New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner is heading to the English Premier League, a transfer to Arsenal all but officially announced at this point.

Turner will reportedly head to London in the summer in a $6 million transfer, which could grow to $10 million with incentives. 

When the deal gets formally announced, Turner will become the latest American goalkeeper to compete in the prestigious EPL and it will mark a remarkable rise for the 27-year-old from New Jersey — from undrafted collegiate player to one of the top leagues in the world.

“It’s just a great story, and I hope the public is aware of the ascent of Matt Turner,” US Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter said after a 1-0 win over El Salvador Thursday. “He went to Fairfield University, was undrafted out of college, now he’s playing with the national team and he’s headed to Arsenal. It’s just an amazing story and it’s all down to him, his work ethic, his belief in himself and his never give up attitude. It’s a great story and Matt is a great guy, a great teammate and we’re lucky to have him.

“Tonight was an example of where he did everything that he had to do. He was calm in all situations,” Berhalter added. “Wasn’t tested much but was there when we needed him and looked like a player that’s going to Arsenal, for sure.”

Turner’s journey started as a 14-year-old at St. Joseph’s Regional High School in Montvale, N.J.,where he also played basketball and baseball. 

Turner went to Fairfield University where, after a brief substitute appearance as a freshman, his collegiate career took an inauspicious turn, an own goal against Iona College his sophomore year turned viral and became an ESPN Not Top 10 moment. 

That turned out to be his only minutes as a sophomore and a soccer career was at a crossroads before it could kick into gear. 

“At that point, I was all done,” he told The Athletic. “I was like, ‘You know what, this isn’t for me. Fairfield’s not for me, soccer is not really for me. I have a good GPA, I can transfer anywhere, maybe walk on to a different team, get a really good degree and just have some fun, whatever.’ And that was my mindset. I was done.”

Turner consulted his parents, who encouraged him to stick with it. Wanting to prove to the Fairfield coaching staff that he could be trusted, Turner played for the Jersey Express that summer in what was then the USL’s Premier Development League, where collegiate players could stay sharp during the summer. 

He led the team to the national semifinals after becoming the No. 1 goalkeeper and had a standout junior season, with 13 shutouts in 18 matches. Turner had another seven clean sheets in 18 matches as a senior. 

“It’s the mental fortitude of Matt that I think has made him get to where he is,” Fairfield head coach Carl Rees said in an NBC Sports Boston documentary.

 

Turner didn’t get invited to the MLS Combine and wasn’t selected in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, but a connection between his agent and the Revs’ then-goalkeeping coach Remi Roy allowed Turner a 10-day trial to be the club’s third-string goalkeeper. 

After initial struggles, Turner signed with the Revs on March 3, 2016, and earned valuable professional experience on weekend loans with the Richmond Kickers in the USL Championship while training with New England during the week for his first two seasons. 

Turner opened preseason camp in 2018 as the No. 3 goalkeeper, but impressed then-head coach Brad Friedel, a former U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper who made 450 appearances in the EPL for Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur during his playing days. So much so, Turner started the regular season opener and the next 26 games before being replaced for the next seven matches before returning for the season finale against Montreal.

Turner started the 2019 season as the No. 3 goalkeeper, but made his debut in a 5-1 loss to Chicago, a match that would be Friedel’s final in charge. Interim head coach Mike Lapper kept him as a starter, as did Bruce Arena when he was hired as head coach and sporting director.

"He's improved greatly," Arena said in June. “He continues to improve, he works real hard, he's a good student of the game, a great person. … We’re excited the way he's progressing as a goalkeeper. I like to believe with goalkeepers that they win you some games and don't lose you any, and that's the case with Matt Turner. Matt never loses a game and often wins us some games, so over a season that's a real plus for a team.”

Turner broke out in 2020 when he proved he was one of Major League Soccer’s top goalkeepers and broke in with the USMNT. There was no doubt in 2021 when Turner was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and helped lead the Revolution to the Supporters’ Shield title with an MLS-record points total while challenging Zack Steffen, who plays for Manchester City, as his national team’s top goalkeeper. 

“It’s been an amazing journey, especially 2021 has been an amazing ride for me,” Turner said in a pre-match press conference ahead of a World Cup qualifying start against El Salvador in September. “I’m just taking things as they come, trying not to get too high, get too low when things are coming and going. Just trying to challenge myself to be a better goalkeeper, a better person every single day in, day out. Hopefully things happen in a good way for me.”

On Sunday, Turner earned his 13th cap for the US men’s national team in a 2-0 loss to Canada in World Cup qualifying. He was at least partially to blame for Cyle Larin’s opening goal in the 7th minute with an errant goal kick. 

But if history is any indication, Matt Turner will bounce back. It’s what he’s done throughout his meteoric rise. 

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