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Matt Turner's Ability to Live His Dream Is Another Tool in His Arsenal

The U.S. goalkeeper will leave MLS for the Premier League this summer in a move that represents the reward for his unorthodox career and ascent.

On one emotional and surreal day last month, as Matt Turner was living out one improbable dream, another was taking shape.

And it was a dream. There’s even a bit of circumstantial photographic evidence. Turner recently posted the picture, which features a teenage goalkeeper with next to no professional prospects dozing in a red Arsenal jersey. He’d started following the traditional Premier League power when his older sisters played for a youth side named in its honor. The Gunners became his team of choice on FIFA. He studied their history.

“Then you dream,” the U.S. and New England Revolution goalkeeper said Thursday in his first public comments since his stunning summer move to Arsenal was confirmed. “You want things to happen for you in your life, and you don’t really see a clear path for how they’re going to happen. But you just trust the work and trust your dream every single day, and continue to work hard, be self aware, know what you need to work on and listen to your coaches around you.”

Turner, now 27, followed that famously uncharted path through Fairfield University to the third-tier Richmond Kickers, the Revolution, the national team and then a magical 2021. Last year, he won the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award, the Supporters’ Shield and the Concacaf Gold Cup (with five clean sheets in six games), among other honors. Turner battled Manchester City’s Zack Steffen for the starting role with the U.S. and, over the winter, attracted Arsenal’s interest. On the late January day Turner helped the Americans shut out El Salvador in a World Cup qualifier—his sixth of an eventual eight starts in Concacaf’s Octagonal—a move to London worth up to a reported $10.2 million was sealed.

USMNT and New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner

Poignantly, Turner signed a fan’s Arsenal shirt as he headed triumphantly toward the locker room in Columbus.

“I had heard of rumblings of interest over the past few months but it always seemed like a long shot. When the year turned, they decided to put in in offer and contact the Revs,” Turner explained. “Then on the day we were playing El Salvador it finally went through. It was emotional. It was up and down. Sometimes it was more dead then ever, sometimes it was more alive than ever, but that’s the first time I’ve ever been through something like that.

“So to have it all come through and then come out and put in a good performance and get three points for the national team, it was a very sort of euphoric day for me in my life and in my career.”

Somehow, Turner has never allowed his dreams to become a distraction. Perhaps at the beginning that was because they seemed so far-fetched. They were fantasies. He was thrilled just to sign a contract, just to get a game. But even as his progress and the potential reward became tangible, the focus and humility didn’t waver. There was proof and precedent. He knew the path that had led him that far was the path that would take him further.

“I hope the public’s aware of this ascent of Matt Turner, because it’s an incredible story,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said following the El Salvador win. “It’s an amazing, amazing story. And it’s all down to him and his work ethic and his belief in himself—his never-give-up attitude. It’s a great story and Matt is a great guy, great teammate and we’re lucky to have him. 

“But [against El Salvador] was an example where he did everything he had to do,” the manager added. “He was calm in all situations. Wasn’t tested much, but was there when we needed him and he looked like a player that’s going to Arsenal, for sure.”

USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner makes a save vs. El Salvador

Berhalter’s support has been a significant part of Turner’s emergence. But the U.S. coach hasn’t allowed sentiment to get in the way of standards. His concerns over Turner’s comfort in possession and as part of the U.S. build-up resulted in Steffen, who’s a backup at City, starting three qualifiers in October and November. Turner then regained the No. 1 role for recent games against El Salvador, Canada and Honduras while Steffen dealt with a back issue. 

While Berhalter will have to choose between the two for the qualifying climax in March, the race for the top job is going to evolve heading toward the World Cup (assuming qualification). No longer will Turner have form, rhythm and guaranteed games on his side of the ledger. Like Steffen, he’ll be battling for minutes at one of the game’s biggest clubs. Arsenal starter Aaron Ramsdale is 23. He earned his first senior England cap in a November World Cup qualifier and is on the books at Arsenal until the summer of 2025.

Turner is well aware of what awaits. He said he’s “not concerned” about jeopardizing his international status. He’s fought these battles before, on relative terms. And he’s convinced the challenge will make him a better player, thus putting him in position to compete for more meaningful minutes on multiple fronts. Both Turner and Berhalter said that Arsenal’s style of play under Mikel Arteta should help Turner improve his passing and distribution. The rest will work itself out. You don’t turn down a chance like this.

"It's always easier when they're aligned—the player's role and responsibility at his club—when it's aligned with his role with the national team. It's always helpful. You don't always get that,” Berhalter said on U.S. Soccer’s podcast. “With Matt in particular, he's done a great job of improving in that area, and we're excited to see how he continues to develop.”

Turner said, “I know Gregg was a big supporter of this move.

He added, “When I was first trying to become a professional soccer player, most teams said ‘No.’ I came in and I was a [No.] 3. I was a [No.] 2. When I got my first chance with the national team, it was only as a No. 3. No one ever really took me seriously. So I’m not going over there just to collect a check and ride off into the sunset. I’m going to push myself.”

Matt Turner makes a save for the New England Revolution

Turner will join Arsenal during its offseason. The transfer window opens in July. Until then, there’s the not-so-small matter of confirming World Cup qualification, not to mention a swan song with the Revolution that’ll be anchored by its effort to become the first MLS club to solve the infuriating Concacaf Champions League puzzle. New England got a head start when Caribbean champion Cavaly of Haiti withdrew from the tournament this week. The Revs will face either UNAM Pumas or Saprissa in the quarterfinals and will open the MLS season on Feb. 26 at the Portland Timbers.

He’ll be 28 by the time he makes the move abroad. It’s one that once seemed impossible but also somehow fated, and it comes with an obvious and inherent risk. Turner’s career is already a storybook success. He could stay in MLS, play regularly and make a good living with a contending club. But that would be selling that “incredible story” short, in a way. He wants to know how this fairy tale ends. And what better place to do it than at the famous club he followed as a modest teenager who was on his way to a spot on the all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference second team?

“These windows are few and far between, so any opportunity you get to sort of make that jump, get your foot in the door and sort of see what happens, you kind of have to take that chance—especially when it comes to a club like Arsenal,” Turner said.

“I obviously was playing every single game last year for the Revolution and I wasn’t the out-and-out No. 1 for the national team. I still get displaced by Zack for some of the games in World Cup qualifying. So this is a way for me to show my ambition and show that I want to work on things that maybe I’m not as good at as he is, and then challenge myself at the highest level possible. That’s always been my goal as as soccer player. … This is a dream move, a dream come true. And no hesitation. Seriously, no hesitation.”

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