Feature

Matt Turner's rapid rise from college to Qatar

Matt Turner

When the USA take to the field this evening against Wales, it’ll be their first World Cup match in over eight years. Much has changed in that time - especially for Matt Turner.

Back in 2014, when the States were knocked out in Brazil by Belgium, Tim Howard was the star of the show as he made a competition record 15 saves in one game. Watching on in admiration was a student at Fairfield University, with a pipedream of patrolling the posts at the pinnacle of international football.

Now the student is the master. Matt looks set to follow in Howard’s footsteps and walk out at the Al Rayyan Stadium to face Gareth Bale and co, having started 19 of his country’s previous 27 matches which included winning the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Typically, the down-to-earth custodian isn’t taking anything for granted.

“I’m playing to the best of my abilities and letting my body of work over the past 18 months speak for itself,” he says. “I've played 20 games in the national team over the past few years, and I think I'm in a good position to play at the World Cup. At the end of the day, if Gregg [Berhalter] decides on Ethan [Horvath] or Sean [Johnson], and feels that's the best way to get results, I stand behind the decisions that he makes. 

"I always want to challenge myself at the highest level possible"

“I support him as a manager, and I'll play to the best of my abilities to try and win. Obviously, I want to play, and I feel I've done enough to prove I can play at that level, but you can only control so much, and I feel I've done what I can.”

Matt only won his first cap for his country in January 2021, but his rapid rise to becoming his nation’s number one is in keeping with his career. His underdog story began aged 14 when he first started playing football, and filled in as a keeper when a teammate got injured. He later nearly gave the game up to pursue a career in business before a trial at New England Revolution in 2016 changed his life.

That belief in his abilities ultimately led him to the Gold Cup triumph, when he also picked up the Golden Glove award. Further acclaim came when he was crowned MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, but all this wasn’t enough to guarantee his country’s goalkeeper jersey which led him to take the next step in his career, ending up in north London. 

Matt Turner with the Gold Cup Golden Glove award

“I was benched for one game in World Cup qualifying, and the message was that playing week-in-week-out in the MLS wasn't enough,” he revealed. “So I'm chasing whatever more is. I'm training at a really high level, challenging, and playing under a really good coach who believes in me, and that feels really nice.

“There are no guarantees in this game. It's all about how you train, and how you gain the trust of your manager and those around you. I wasn't given any specific clarities on my role [at Arsenal] - just that if you show up and you work hard, then anything can happen. 

“It was a risk to go from being a shoo-in starter to a place where I wasn't guaranteed to be a regular starter, but it felt like a necessary risk that I had to take. I always want to challenge myself at the highest level possible.”

The risk looks to have paid off, with Matt named in a youthful US squad boasting an average age of 24 - the second youngest in Qatar behind Ghana. “I’ll be like a grandpa, aged 28!” he laughs, but it is clear Berhalter’s eye is on 2026 when the US will be one of the host nations. 

"In the World Cup, anything is possible"

What they may lack in experience, they make up for in confidence. Despite being placed in a tricky group alongside Wales, England and Iran, Matt suggests hopes are high that the US can spring a surprise and go deep into the competition.

“We have a belief in ourselves,” he added. “I think our group is the highest FIFA-ranked group on average, so it's tough, and every game is tough. Obviously, we want to talk about England versus the US, but before that, we have a game each, and in the World Cup, anything is possible. If you look too far into the future, you're gonna find yourself in trouble.”

While he doesn’t want to look past the opener against the Welsh, Matt admits that since he first walked through the door at London Colney, it has been hard not to focus on the meeting with the Three Lions, with three familiar faces providing plenty of friendly trash-talk.

Matt Turner ahead of the 2022 World Cup

Bukayo Saka, Ben White and his rival for our jersey Aaron Ramsdale have all been winding him up, with the quartet set to face off when England meet the States on Friday.

Looking ahead to that encounter, he said: “We've had some banter with the English guys, so I'm really looking forward to it. Playing at a World Cup is just such a special thing, and it's the pinnacle of your career, so to share that with a country that I'm new to and getting accustomed to would be really special.

“Most of my banter comes with Aaron. It's just regular banter like you'd have with anybody, you talk about stuff like the Revolutionary War - that's more me joking about it! They laugh and just joke that they're gonna smash us, so it's all good!”

"I’m very excited, it’s a dream come true for me"

Should results go their way and the USA reach the last-16 and possibly further, these next few weeks will rank amongst Matt’s career highlights. But at the moment, he’s just thrilled to have got the call for Qatar as his remarkable rise through the game continues.

“I’m very excited, it’s a dream come true for me,” he smiled. “I didn’t get into football until a bit later on, so the first World Cup I watched was in 2010 in South Africa. I was already 16 but that was the sporting event that made me fall in love with the beautiful game. 

“I remember when Landon Donovan scored in stoppage time to beat Algeria and get the US through the group stage; I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the same emotion watching a game. That World Cup was amazing, but that moment is what sparked me to really go after football.”

Having been inspired by the World Cup, Matt is now hoping he can be the inspiration for the US team to make a real impression on the grandest stage of them all.

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