Voices: Joseph Lowery

What is Arsenal getting in New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner?

You, dear reader, already know a few things about Matt Turner.

You know he’s an American coming to Arsenal. You know he’s a US men’s national team player. You know he’s spent the last handful of years in MLS playing for the New England Revolution, even earning 2021's Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year award.

But who really is Matt Turner? There have been other American goalkeepers in the Premier League – good ones too, like Tim Howard and Brad Friedel. But who is the latest USMNT goalkeeper who’s heading across the Atlantic?

Let’s talk about Matt Turner’s skill set and his style of play.

Skill set

If there’s one thing you need to know about Turner, it’s that he is a fantastic shot-stopper. He’s bailed his teammates out time and time again in MLS with all sorts of timely and acrobatic saves. With quick feet and a long reach, Turner has the athleticism and the technique to make big saves in big moments when opposing attackers are closing in on goal.

There’s even a Turner-inspired Twitter account called “Does Matt Turner save that?”, that goes around Tweeting “Matt Turner saves that” when other goalkeepers allow goals of all different kinds.

In 2021, when the Revolution finished with the most points in MLS history (73) and took home the Supporters’ Shield, Turner was the key player for Bruce Arena’s team. The 27-year-old made more than a handful of big saves, elevating his team from being one of the better teams in the league to the best team in the league.

Turner made plenty of saves like this one, where he extended out to his left to save a curling shot to the far post.

And he also made plenty of saves like this one, where he got low and pushed the ball away from goal with a strong palm and wrist.

According to FBref, Turner saved 5.9 goals more than expected in 2021, which was the third-best total in MLS. Turner was also third in MLS in goals saved per 90 minutes over the expected total. 2021 wasn’t just some sort of fluke for Turner, though. He finished 2020 with the best shot-stopping numbers in MLS, saving 8.2 goals more than expected and he finished fourth in 2019, saving 5.7 goals more than expected.

Turner’s acrobatic exploits in goal aren’t just confined to MLS, either. He’s also sprinkled in some high-quality saves during his time with the United States on international duty. This save against Qatar in last summer’s Gold Cup is one of my favorites: Turner reacts quickly and manages to make a save with the fingertips of his left hand.

Turner isn’t perfect, but he has a clear, positive pattern of impacting games in big ways for both club and country. There is a good chance he will be the USMNT’s starting goalkeeper at the World Cup later this year – and with good reason. According to at least one metric, Turner has been maybe the most valuable player in MLS over the last decade. Based on American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric, which calculates a player’s impact on their team’s probability of scoring and conceding goals, Turner has had the two most impactful single seasons since 2013. That’s as far back as ASA’s data goes.

Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both set MLS on fire in 2019, adding 0.36 and 0.33 goals above average per 96 minutes, respectively. They were both phenomenal in Los Angeles that season. But as good as that pair of stars was, Turner was better. Per ASA, Turner added 0.47 goals above average per 96 minutes in 2019. 0.47! That’s the best season in ASA’s database. It wasn’t a one-off, either. Turner followed up his 2019 season by adding 0.42 goals above average per 96 minutes in 2020, which is good for the second-best season in ASA’s database.

Because he’s so athletic and because he thinks quickly and generally makes smart decisions in goal, Turner has been an elite shot-stopper for years.

Area of improvement

Now, while Turner is great at stopping shots, passing isn’t historically his strength. He can find open teammates in possession, but it’s not his biggest strong suit. Over the last three seasons, Turner is only in the 59th percentile among MLS goalkeepers in passes completed per 90 minutes, per Second Spectrum.

Turner has been asked to hit a lot of long passes with New England, which hurt his passing completion percentage (75%) and limited his chances to develop his short-passing game in league play. His composure on the ball and his ability to participate in buildup should be the primary focus for Arsenal’s coaching staff in preseason. Turner’s also outspoken about this area and has devoted much time to improving it, both for club and country.

So, to sum up Turner’s skill set: he’s an extremely effective shot-stopper who has room to improve with the ball at his feet. Though that combination is counter-intuitive, given the world’s biggest teams have gravitated towards ball-playing goalkeepers over the last 10 years, it’s clear Turner can change games with his work in goal.

Premier League comparison

When you look at Turner’s strengths and weaknesses, there are a couple of current Premier League goalkeepers who have a relatively similar profile.

One of those players is Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka. Though Dubravka is several years older than Turner, he has put up some impressive shot-stopping numbers in England and has played plenty of long passes with Newcastle over the last five seasons. Another player with a similar profile to Turner is West Ham’s Lukasz Fabianski. Fabianski plays a lot of long balls for West Ham – he also put up some of the best shot-stopping numbers in the Premier League last year.

At this point, it’s unclear just how much Turner will play for Arsenal in 2022-23 given that England international Aaron Ramsdale is in place as the established starting goalkeeper. Still, Turner has an impressive ability to save shots, goals and points for his team. And Arsenal didn't shell out a reported $6 million (which can grow to just under $10 million with incentives) for nothing.

We’ll see how he adjusts to life with Arsenal in the Premier League soon enough.