The Revolution of Matt Turner: the 'incredible story' of USMNT, future Arsenal goalkeeper

Emily Olsen
USA TODAY Sports+

The scene opens with the main character, 27, sitting in front of a laptop camera on Zoom. 

Behind him is a step-and-repeat with the new logo for Major League Soccer's reigning Supporters’ Shield winners, New England Revolution. He’s donning a black jersey with a light blue stripe diagonal from waist to shoulder.

His brown hair swoops to the side across his forehead. His beard fails to hide the soft hint of a smile when the first journalist asks the once-overlooked goalkeeper about his upcoming move to legendary English Premier League club Arsenal. His eyebrows furrow in a pensive formation when the question turns to the topic of his status with the United States men’s national team on the path to qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Is he worried the move to Arsenal, where he may not start, will affect his position with Team USA?

“I’m not concerned about it at all,” he responds during Thursday's MLS media day. “At the end of the day, it’s going to be how I continue to progress.”

It may not be on the big screen yet, but Matt Turner’s rise from New England to national and international goalkeeper has the makings of a feel-good Hollywood movie.

How did this protagonist go from Park Ridge, New Jersey to packing his bags for London?

It wasn’t easy and the journey is far from over.

“I’ve always told him his story is so different and just so special and unique,” Turner’s teammate Sebastian Lletget told USA TODAY Sports+. “It’s also about the type of person he is and how good of a guy he is. It’s a perfect Hollywood story.”

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New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner celebrates winning the 2021 Supporters' Shield after the regular-season finale at Gillette Stadium.

The genesis of Turner’s unexpected path dates back only a decade. He didn't seriously focus on soccer until high school at Saint Joseph Regional High School 30 miles northwest of New York City. With few options to play in college, he landed at Fairfield University, but went undrafted in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. Turner and his agent called teams for a shot at the professional league. 

New England answered with a trialist offer that became a contract. Turner bounced around the third and fourth goalkeeper positions, quietly but confidently making his case. At the time, he wasn't on the national team radar. 

“I think that becomes part of our identity as Americans getting to the top level,” Lletget said. “There’s not just one way of getting there.” 

Turner spent two seasons working with the USL’s Richmond Kickers on loan in the lower division league. 

He finally got the opportunity to start an MLS season with the Revolution in 2018 under then-coach Brad Friedel. 

“I literally heard his name for the first time when Brad Friedel gave him the starting job,” Hall of Fame and USMNT goalkeeper Tony Meola told USA TODAY Sports+. “Brad was the first one to give him an opportunity, and he took it and ran with it.”

Friedel also took the path from MLS to Europe during his playing days and was part of multiple World Cup U.S. teams. He saw something in Turner. 

“As long as he stays grounded, humble, focused, his potential is really high,” Friedel said in May 2018. “There’s not too many American goalkeepers that are better than him anywhere in the world.”

Freidel was eventually replaced in New England by former national team and MLS coach Bruce Arena, who also praised the progressing keeper. 

"He continues to improve, he works real hard, he's a good student of the game, a great person," Arena said in June 2021. "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."

Turner morphed opportunity into success and began getting looks from Arsenal last year. He will join the club this summer pending completion of a medical evaluation, New England announced in February.

“I’ve been playing really well for the better part of three years, and this is the first club to make a concrete offer,” Turner said. “It’s really hard to say no to not only the chance to go fulfill a dream, but also to challenge myself at the highest level and play for one of the biggest, most recognizable brands in the world in Arsenal.”

Before the big move, Turner has part of an MLS season, Concacaf Champions League and the final window of World Cup qualifying left to play.

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Though he got his first call up to the national team late in 2019, Turner sat mostly behind Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen until his debut in January 2021 in an international friendly against Trinidad and Tobago. Turner has played 16 games for the U.S., including eight unexpected starts in World Cup qualifying due to Steffen's injuries and bout with COVID-19. 

“I hope the public’s aware of this ascent of Matt Turner, because it’s an incredible story,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said following a World Cup qualifying win against El Salvador. “And it’s all down to him and his work ethic and his belief in himself and 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.”

Meola, who represented the U.S. in the 1990, 1994 and 2002 World Cups, said having two non-starters competing for the No.1 goalkeeping spot going into a World Cup is something the program hasn’t seen in a while. 

A goalkeeper competition. A crucial World Cup year. A move to the English Premier League.

“That’s a lot on one person’s plate,” Meola said.

Turner said he’s ready for next big scene of his life.

“When I first started, I was trying to become a professional soccer player, most teams said 'no,'” Turner said. “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."

Turner said he wants to push Arsenal starting goalie Aaron Ramsdale. But before he moves across the pond he has a few remaining months with the Revolution, who have championship ambitions of their own.

Turner doesn’t see this MLS season — which starts Feb. 26 for New England against the Portland Timbers — as a time for pomp and circumstance.

“It’s not really like a farewell tour, it’s probably more like a see you in 10 years, hopefully, tour, where I can come back and sort of remember the memories and the way this league is growing so fast,” he said.

The curtain is far from closing on Turner’s career — still young in terms of goalkeepers. That doesn’t stop Lletget from planning the future movie production of Turner's story.

“The Revolution of Matt Turner,” Lleget said. “There it is. Boom.”