It almost felt like a victory lap as Matt Turner stepped in front of the cameras to speak with media via video conference on Thursday as part of MLS’ leadup to the opening day of the 2022 season.
It was the first time the New England Revolution goalkeeper has spoken in-depth about his summer transfer to English Premier League side Arsenal, a move he himself considered “a long shot” when the possibility first arose, and which he revealed was sealed just a few hours before his clean-sheet performance for the US men’s national team in their 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over El Salvador last month.
It’s also likely to be one of the few chances he gets to reflect publicly on his incredible journey from an undrafted trialist to USMNT starter before diving headlong into what figures to be a supremely hectic year in all respects.
“When I first was trying to become a professional soccer player, most teams said no; I came in, I was a [No.] 3 [on the depth chart], I was a 2. When I got my first chance with a national team it was only as a number three. No one ever really took me seriously,” said Turner, explaining why he has no reservations about moving from New England’s clear starter to a projected backup for the North London giants.
“So I'm not going over there just to collect a check and ride off into the sunset. I'm going to push myself, I’m going to push Aaron [Ramsdale] and continue to help him get better and help myself get better. And obviously I'm going to try to challenge for games.”
This remains more of a beginning than an end, the jumping-off point for another chapter in what has already been a Cinderella story, with plenty of checkered flags still to come. And true to form, Turner already has a few ideas about how he’ll tell it, though he’s not ready to list any potential actors for the leading role just yet.
“I told Sebastian Lletget that he could be the producer of my movie,” he revealed with a smile, “so we'll have to work on that together before I get into names.
“It's not really like a farewell tour. It's probably more of like a ‘see you in 10 years, hopefully’ tour,” he added of his final months with the Revs, “where I can come back and sort of remember the memories and the way this league is growing so fast. I'm sure there'll be some more new stadiums, new training grounds and so it'll just be a totally different place in that time.”
Running neck-and-neck with Manchester City’s Zack Steffen in the race for the USMNT’s No. 1 role, Turner knows he’s taking a risk by trading steady minutes for the unknown, especially with a World Cup just months away. But it’s one he discussed with manager Gregg Berhalter, and a chance that might not come his way again.
Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year - Matt Turner
“Gregg was a big supporter of this move. So at the end of the day, it's going to be how I continue to progress,” said Turner, pointing out that even as a Revs regular he still got “displaced” from Berhalter’s starting XI by Steffen earlier in this qualifying cycle.
“I’ll play in almost 20 [MLS] games in the early parts of the season and then get to move overseas and get to work on understanding a new culture, a new way of life, a different league, quality players from top to bottom that will really help me. And also the style of play Arsenal plays is one that is similar to what Gregg is trying to implement with the national team. So it'll be more exposure to that type of play. And I think it's going to help me in the long run.”
Wearing a Gotham FC kit in a nod to the NWSL club based at Red Bull Arena, near his hometown of Park Ridge, New Jersey – “gotta rep the home state, the home team, promote NWSL any way I can,” he said – Turner was introspective as he discussed the long, winding road that led him here.
“My path, as you guys know, was carved very uniquely and it will continue to go that way. I mean, I'm 27, almost 28. I've been playing really well for the better part of three years, and this is the first club to make a concrete offer,” he said. “And I understand that it's really challenging to get your foot in the door. So it's really hard to say no to not only the chance to go fulfill a dream, but also to go challenge myself at the highest level and play for one of the biggest and most recognizable brands in the world in Arsenal."
Turner believes he’s left the Revolution in a better spot than when he arrived, and last year's Supporters' Shield confirms it. He’ll keep hold of his home in South Boston – in fact, he’ll rent it out to a Revs teammate once he crosses the Atlantic – and hopes to help new teammates like Lletget and Jozy Altidore find their feet before he departs on his next adventure.
“I've been playing well for a long time and these windows are few and far between. So any opportunity you get to make that jump, get your foot in the door and then sort of see what happens, you kind of have to take that chance, especially when it comes to a club like Arsenal,” he said. “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 [Steffen] is, and then challenge myself at the highest level possible. That's always been my goal as a soccer player.”