Matt Turner knows well there are concerns over his change in employer this summer, leaving behind a starring role at the New England Revolution for his current backup perch at Arsenal.
Those worries are only heightened by the US men’s national team being a short two months away from the FIFA 2022 World Cup, going from being the 2021 MLS Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year to fighting for his chance in the English Premier League.
But the 28-year-old, speaking as the USMNT’s September camp in Germany gets underway, brushed aside worries about his lack of playing time in recent months.
“It depends on how you approach training, I would say,” Turner said Monday. “If you're in it just to stroll about and you don't think that you can change your situation no matter what you do, then you'll lose a lot of that sharpness.
“But I don't know how much you know about me or my story, but that's not really the kind of way that I operate. Every single day I go to training, I'm going to try to get better, to try to learn and improve and try to get myself onto the field.”
"My ceiling has not yet been reached"
Turner has made one Arsenal appearance so far, a 2-1 win over FC Zurich two weeks ago in the UEFA Europa League. Otherwise, he’s been on the bench behind England international Aaron Ramsdale.
The Gunners, leading the Premier League ahead of reigning champions Manchester City, reportedly paid New England a $10 million transfer fee to acquire Turner, their second big goalkeeping signing of the past two years after landing Ramsdale from Sheffield United in 2021 for a fee initially worth £24 million. That’s created a natural roadblock for the former MLS star, but Turner’s betting on himself yet again.
“I know my ceiling has not yet been reached and it's going to take some hard work, obviously some risky career moves at the end of the day,” Turner said. “But if I want to get to where I want to get to, I need to get outside of my comfort zone a little bit and that's going to help my sharpness every single day and my approach to the game in general.”
Turner’s comments come during the USMNT’s final scheduled matches before Group B play at the World Cup begins Nov. 21 against Wales. They’ll play Japan (Sept. 23) and Saudi Arabia (Sept. 27) in friendlies this month, then it’s back to the club grind before manager Gregg Berhalter names his final 26-man squad.
The New Jersey native, who’s gone from an undrafted free agent out of Fairfield University to holding 18 international caps, feels he’ll be sharp enough to play in Qatar.
“Playing in the Europa League was a nice box to tick and I felt like after the first five minutes I sort of settled into the game and I felt really, really good about how I did,” Turner said. “[Now it’s] sort of continue moving forward and focus on these two games and then from there, we have 13 games between the end of this break and the World Cup. Busy times ahead.”
"My game has come a long way"
Most of Turner’s opportunities have come in practice, in contrast to two international colleagues who are competing in England’s second division while on loan from top-flight sides: Middlesbrough's Zack Steffen (from Manchester City) and Luton Town’s Ethan Horvath (from Nottingham Forest). In MLS, New York City FC’s Sean Johnson is tied for the clean-sheet lead (14) – and all but Steffen are in camp this month.
Despite the different gameday realities the goalkeepers face, Turner remains adamant he’s developed in the past three months, having departed the Revs after their June 19 match vs. Minnesota United FC. In New England, he’s since been replaced by Serbian standout Djordje Petrovic.
“My game has come a long way since I began at Arsenal,” Turner said. “Just the speed and the intensity of everything, every single day. Mikel [Arteta] doesn't accept anything except full-gas at training sessions, so you have to bring it every single day, or else you get found out pretty quickly out there on the pitch.
“For me, it's the consistency that I have to bring every day in training, being ready for moments where I'm going to be able to get to play and overall just the speed, technical execution of things, making saves against world-class players every day in training, sometimes getting found out by world-class players in training. But all the while learning.”
Asked about early learning moments under Arteta, Turner referenced a practice led by the Spaniard, one that seems to have set his entire outlook for his time in England.
“We were playing a small possession game and it was really, really tight,” Turner said. “I tried to make a pass and I gave the ball away. I sort of visually got frustrated and upset and he just came up to me and shoved me. He was basically like, 'I don't want to see that. I don't like seeing that reaction. I want to see you pick yourself up and keep going.'
“I think that really set the tone for my mentality within the club and just to keep going no matter what. If you fail, that's alright. What matters is how you react and not about the failure in itself. That was a really nice moment."
Learning at Arsenal, looking to become the latest American goalkeeper to make it in the Premier League, Turner is confident his latest bet-on-yourself move will pay off. Should he get the World Cup starting nod, it may have to.
“I had a meeting recently with my goalkeeper coach, where we looked at videos from my first few days of training and then videos from my last few days of training,” Turner said. “Because I think it's easy for us to get caught up in the moment, but looking back then to now, the difference in a goalkeeper that I am is huge and I've changed massively.
“I'm looking forward to representing the country again and having these opportunities to hopefully show everybody else as well.”