Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Matt Turner to Arsenal? Why he should go & what it means for New England, USMNT

On Thursday morning, ESPN's Taylor Twellman pulled the pin on a transfer grenade that sent shockwaves through soccer obsessives on both sides of the Atlantic.

A tale in several parts…

And so, here we are, not-so-patiently waiting for a resolution to a transfer saga that muscled its way into an already busy MLS offseason/winter window/World Cup qualification cycle to take center stage.

My take? If he wants to go – and I assume he does – I hope the New England Revolution sell Matt Turner to Arsenal.

Take the money – as much as you can possibly get, of course – and the international prestige of selling to one of the most supported clubs in the world. Pour yourself a nice glass of red wine, count your profits/GAM and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. The Revs got four of the best goalkeeping seasons in the history of the league, plus a Supporters’ Shield, from a guy they didn’t even have to use a SuperDraft pick to acquire.

Acquire player. Develop player. Player becomes starter. All-Star. Full international. Goalkeeper of the Year and Shield winner. An offer comes in that benefits both parties. Collect millions of dollars and return to Go! This is the game MLS says it wants to play (and is getting better at playing every single day). You’ve got to let go and cash in when the timing is right.

For Turner, who turns 28 in June, and the Revs, the timing appears to be as right as it will ever be. It’s Arsenal. When you get that offer, you say yes.

That’s just one man’s opinion, and God knows Bruce Arena and the Krafts aren’t hanging on my every word. So, while we wait for the saga to unfold, let’s take a step back and try to understand what Turner-to-Arsenal might mean for all the parties involved.

What would it mean for Matt Turner?

Leave your naivety at the door. Careers are finite, money matters and Arsenal pay very well. Who among us would say no to multiplying our income many times over to accept a dream job? Not I! And I bet none of you would either!

It seems, based on cursory Twitter sleuthing, that Arsenal might just be a literal dream job for Turner, too. Notice the #COYG (Come on you Gunners) hashtag from wayyyyyyy back in 2016, a full two years before his first MLS start when none of this would have seemed possible, let alone plausible.

Money isn’t everything, you might say, and I might agree, to an extent that changing the future of your family sort of is everything. Let’s throw the money out the window. There is a significant competitive wrinkle to consider as well.

What of Turner’s place with the US men’s national team ahead of the World Cup? Shouldn’t he be concerned about not playing regular games – one of the main points that differentiate him from Zack Steffen in the race to be Gregg Berhalter’s No. 1 in Qatar, should they emerge from the Octagonal – as the expectation is that he’d be brought to North London to replace Bernd Leno as Aaron Ramsdale’s backup?

More generally, players in their prime want to play. Why trade guaranteed minutes in New England to train and watch from the bench in England? Why not wait until an offer comes from a team that plans to make Turner their starter? Why take a risk in a World Cup year?

Why do anything if you’re afraid of failure? When your journey took you from Fairfield University to the brink of the World Cup, why not bet on yourself?

Why wait for the possibility something good will happen when something potentially great (and certainly life-changing) is right there in front of you? Why can’t Turner force his way into the Arsenal lineup over time? And if he can’t, no shame there. Wouldn’t Tim Howard’s Manchester United-to-mid-table-legend (sorry, Everton supporters) path still be on the table?

Why do American soccer fans still harbor such an inferiority complex given the growing reality of our players' place in the upper echelons of the club game? Our collective baggage is not Turner’s to bear. He has the opportunity to be an Arsenal player. He might never be able to say that again.

If he goes to the Premier League, Turner will be betting big, on himself, as he has with the Revs and with the USMNT. The difficulty will be ratcheted up. At both international and club level, may the best man win. Turner can either earn his way into the net in training or an untimely injury (knock on wood) can change the math. If he believes that can happen, who are we to say it can’t?

Isn’t that sort of confidence and willingness to compete for a place what we want from our best players? Why can’t Turner get even better in a training environment that pushes him to his limits? Why are American fans so scared our players will fail that we hope they don’t even try to reach their apex?

What would it mean for the USMNT?

Let’s start with what seems obvious at this point in the Octagonal: Steffen is Berhalter’s No. 1.

Steffen is also the backup at Manchester City (to Ederson) and just signed a contract extension that will keep him there for the foreseeable future, where the Columbus Crew product will continue to win trophies and train with the best players in the world. You don’t have to read too hard between the lines to understand what Steffen’s situation says about Turner’s prospects should this move materialize.

His case to start for the USMNT certainly won’t be damaged by moving to the Premier League. Turner is the No. 2 now as a full-time starter and Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year for the Revs, and he’ll still be the No. 2 if he moves to Arsenal. Berhalter knows exactly how good he is, and I would wager Turner will get even better in North London, even if we don’t see it every week.

I, too, don’t love that our No. 1 and No. 2 goalkeepers would be backups at club level during a World Cup year. That’s not ideal … but it’s also probably not catastrophic. Sharpness could be an issue – REMINDER: Even goalkeepers starting every week make errors – but also Steffen (and Ethan Horvath) were backups when the US knocked off Mexico in the Nations League final. Sergio Romero was a backup at Sampdoria when he helped Argentina to the 2014 World Cup final. 

The sky won’t fall is what I am saying. Turner can change/win games by himself now, and that isn’t going to change overnight.

What would it mean for the Revs (and MLS)?

For the Revs, it would mean losing a player who is often the difference between three points and one or none. New England played on a knife’s edge in terms of the scoreline in 2021, and Turner tilted the balance in their favor so much that they set the all-time points record (73) on the back of one-goal wins.

If Turner isn’t the best goalkeeper in MLS, as Extratime ranked him this week, he’s second to Philadelphia’s Andre Blake. He is not immediately replaceable, though veteran Brad Knighton filled in well last year during international absences, and Arena will presumably have to hit the market in search of another starting-caliber goalkeeper with Concacaf Champions League and another season in search of hardware less than a month around the corner.

Such is life. That’s the game and the marketplace MLS wants to succeed in. Players move on, and you must have a plan in place (now, with additional GAM and discretionary spend!) to replace them and keep the project rolling along.

In the old days, the Revs were known for holding onto their prized assets. Shalrie Joseph and Taylor Twellman come to mind. Both missed out on moves abroad, and New England still didn’t win MLS Cup. Meanwhile, Clint Dempsey got his transfer to Fulham, where people wondered if he could hack it, if you remember, and became a legend.

The old days appear to be gone. New England sold Tajon Buchanan to Belgium's Club Brugge for $7 million during the best regular season in MLS history. He will play in the Champions League and perhaps reap sell-on for the Revs should he move up to one of the top five European leagues. He’s helping change the perception of the club and MLS overseas.

What if Turner and Adam Buksa go this window as well? New England might not repeat as Shield winners, but they’ll still be a playoff team, in my opinion, chasing a first-ever Cup while establishing a close-to-$30 million market for their players just a few years after being in the dredges.

That’s the present and future of MLS, and sometimes it feels like we’re all dreaming.