How USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner landed at the World Cup

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RAYYAN, Qatar — Matt Turner was the starting goalkeeper for the United States in its World Cup opener on Monday and, barring unforeseen events, will keep the job for Friday’s showdown against England and as long as the men’s national team remains in the competition.

How incredible is all this? Let him explain.

“I’ve thought about it. It’s crazy — even bananas,” Turner said. “It’s stuff you wouldn’t even think to write about because it would be like, ‘Oh, that doesn’t even make sense. It’s not real. It’s a pretty wild story, compared to the people I share the locker room with every day and bringing them up during the game. It’s a unicorn.”

Consider: He didn’t start playing competitive soccer until he was 16 and never played for the youth team. He played in the shadow of a college (Fairfield University) and was overlooked in the MLS draft. His professional debut came with the lower-tier Richmond Kickers. He made his senior debut just 22 months ago at the age of 26.

“I just hope it shows somebody someday, if they’re on the fence about playing sports, or if they think it’s time to do something, either athletically or in their personal life, they can still make it,” Turner said. .

Turner is a late bloomer who perseveres and his journey over the past six months has taken him from a New England revolution to Premier League leaders Arsenal and a few weeks leading the charge at the World Cup.

He became the latest in a long line of U.S. goaltenders to find a home in Europe’s top leagues, climbing the national team’s depth chart, joining Cassie Keller, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard.

“I’ve coached Brad Friedel, Cassie Keller, goaltenders who have played really well [in the Premier League], and Matt can grow to that level,” said Revolution Coach Bruce Arena, a two-time USA World Cup leader. “Arsenal have got a very good goalkeeper.”

A closer look at the USMNT roster

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Turner and Zach Stephens were expected to compete for the USA job last year. But when coach Greg Berhalter announced the roster two weeks ago, Steffen wasn’t even on it.

Berhalter didn’t elaborate, but people familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter, said Berhalter feels strongly about Turner being his No. 1 goalie and Shaun Johnson at No. 3.

He then decided that Ethan Horvath would be best suited to step in for Turner at short notice if needed. Horvath appeared in the 2021 Concacaf Nations League final with a penalty save and scored in Nottingham Forest’s Premier League victory last spring.

With the situation cleared up ahead of the World Cup, Turner made one fine save in the Group B opener against Wales before Gareth Bale converted an 82nd-minute penalty to earn a 1-1 draw. He followed Bale’s shot, but because it was hit with so much venom and streaked away from him, he could only manage a touch of glare.

The Americans will need to beat England on Friday or Iran next Tuesday to have any chance of advancing to the Round of 16.

For Turner, the starting assignment on Monday marked a big year. In February, as Turner prepared to enter 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 USA’s four matches, adding to a portfolio that included eight starts in 14 World Cup qualifiers in 2021-22. year. (Steffen started the other six.)

Turner has not played much for Arsenal, who are at the top of the Premier League. In league play, he has been back-up to Aaron Ramsdale, who made England’s World Cup squad.

Turner started 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 in Norway, just north of the Arctic Circle.

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“What I found challenging is, sometimes as a goalkeeper, training is harder than the games,” he said of his mostly reserve role. “In training, you see hundreds of moves every session and you fail quite often. It’s tough, mentally and physically. It can be hard to see how far you’ve come if you don’t have a benchmark of what it looks like in the game.

US Men’s National Team coach Greg Berhalter has a talented young squad with experience in Europe’s top leagues but not international competition. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

It was different in New England, where he was the main starter from 2018 after returning from a loan at Richmond.

“Week in and week out in New England, it didn’t really matter what I did in practice,” he said. “I was going to play and the games became my benchmark. So I think it’s all about how you approach the situation you’re in.

Despite not playing regularly, Turner said he has learned tremendously in a highly competitive environment.

Outlook: The draw was good for the USMNT. But at some point “good” isn’t good enough.

“If you don’t bring it on a certain day, you’ll find out pretty quickly,” he said. “I don’t want to be one of those guys that gets the word out.”

Turner learned his lesson in one particular practice.

“I gave the ball away and kind of showed that I was frustrated and upset,” he said. Mikel Arteta, the manager, pushed me and basically said, ‘I don’t want to see that. I don’t like that kind of reaction. I want to see you get up and go on.’

“I think that really set the tone for my mentality at the club and just keep going no matter what. If you fail, it’s okay. It’s how you react, not the failure itself.”

The U.S. men’s World Cup team will face Wales, Iran and group favorite England in the 2022 World Cup group stage in Qatar. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

Turner has also learned to appreciate English football culture.

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“It’s very different from sports in the United States,” he said. “They applaud you for little things you might do. The little nuances of the game are appreciated. It’s like an interactive experience, and the emotions of the fans follow the emotions of the game really closely. It’s really cool. Some sports in the U.S. are written. They tell you shows what to say, whereas things in the Premier League and football can be a bit more organic.

England, who know how high expectations are, open the World Cup with flying colours

Even without full-time assignments, Turner cemented his national team status. In September, Berhalter approached him about the final two World Cup adjustments. In a time of disappointing performances against Japan and Saudi Arabia, Turner was the lone bright spot.

While Turner was fit to open training camp, he was set to start against Wales.

It’s a long way from riding sleeper buses to Richmond road games five years ago.

“Looking 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 at Arsenal.”

And now also in the world championship.

World Cup in Qatar

Live Updates: European powers take center stage on Wednesday in Qatar, where World Cup group matches continue. Stay tuned for the latest news, updates and highlights.

USMNT: Back at 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 faces a tall task on Friday against Group B favorite England, who defeated Iran 6-2 on Monday.

Qatar dispute: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusion, have said they were denied entry to World Cup stadiums and there was a public backlash against removing the emblem.

Group guide: The U.S. men’s soccer team, led by coach Greg Berhalter and forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement over a disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Below is an exact breakdown of how all the teams in each group stand.

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