Matt Turner, the USA’s starting goalkeeper at the 2022 World Cup, is sharing the press conference podium with outside back Antonee Robinson.
“This guy was dribbling a ball around as soon as he could walk,” says Turner referring to Robinson, “and I was learning how to take my own goal kicks when I was 20 years old.”
Turner is a famous late bloomer. He didn't get serious about soccer until he joined his high school soccer team as a freshman to stay in shape for basketball and baseball. He became a goalkeeper when the starter got injured.
Turner and Robinson are back with the U.S. national team from England. Robinson starts for promoted Fulham and Turner is the No. 2 to Aaron Ramsdale at Arsenal, which sits atop the standings aiming for its first Premier League title since 2004.
During this virtual press conference ahead of the USA’s game at Grenada on Friday and vs. El Salvador in Orlando on Monday, Turner is replying to questions about having to fight for playing time with his club and to keep his No. 1 goalkeeper status with the USA.
“Coming from a soccer background that way, so late to the game,” Turner says, “I can never think that things are good enough because I understand I can always be better. I think I have the potential to be a really elite goalkeeper in the world.
“I do not get tired of having to prove myself.”
Turner had left the New England Revolution for Arsenal in the summer of 2022 after earning 2021 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors. A risky move because he’d be unlikely get much playing time with Ramsdale secure in the No. 1 spot for the Gunners.
Yet to make his Premier League debut, Turner started four Europa League games for his only competitive club action in the four months leading up to Qatar.
“I think the move to Arsenal is one of the biggest reasons I was able to get the No. 1 shirt at the World Cup,” Turner said. “It changed the perspective around me and what I was able to accomplish in MLS. It put me in a better league, around better players.
“It made me faster, made me make decisions more quickly and better, and then it put me up against top competition every single day. I think I improved tremendously as a goalkeeper.”
That’s not all.
“In terms of life experience, having a kid abroad, being alone away from family, has been tough, but also a tremendous learning experience,” he said. “I've grown and gained perspective in that area of my life as well. It's been an amazing time.
“Then obviously having the World Cup, proving to myself and to others that I can play at the Premier League level and at the highest level that there is, was really important for me.”
What will he do if he remains the backup at Arsenal?
“It's hard to speculate on the future,” he said. “I'll answer about how far I've come. I think I'll look back on this first year as a massive success.”
The other two goalkeepers in camp are Ethan Horvath, a 2022 World Cup backup along with Sean Johnson, and Zack Steffen, who was left off the World Cup squad after starting in the 2019 Gold Cup and 2021 Concacaf Nations League Finals, and the USA's last six 2022 World Cup qualifiers for which he was available.
“Zack and I have a good relationship,” Turner said. “We have tremendous mutual respect for each other. It's been nice to be back in camp with him. Chit-chatting and catching up.
“In terms of keeping the No. 1 shirt, I'm not the type of person who ever feels like, ‘I'm the out-and-out No. 1.' I just have to continue to work hard when I get my opportunities, play well. I've always had the same mentality: That you need to earn things. They're not given to you.”
Since the World Cup at Arsenal, Turner played in the first leg of the Europa League round of 16, a 2-2 tie with Sporting, but stayed on the bench for second leg, which Sporting won from the penalty spot after a 1-1 tie in which Ramsdale gave up a goal from 50 yards. Turner’s other two games were in the FA Cup, a 3-0 win over Oxford United and a 1-0 loss to Manchester City.
“Obviously, not playing week in and week out is not ideal,” Turner said. “But I'm ready to go every single day in training, making sure I’m preparing myself mentally like I'm playing in the games on the weekend.
“I feel good. I feel ready to play. If the coach chooses me to play here in these games. I'm going to go out there and compete the way I know how to, and from there that [game] rhythm will develop.”
Turner’s return to camp coincided with MLS announcing that Arsenal will be the MLS opponent for the 2023 MLS All-Star Game July 19 at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.
“I’m really excited to come back for the All-Star Game,” said Turner, who was the 2021 All-Star Game MVP in a penalty-kick shootout win over the Liga MX all-stars after a 1-1 tie. “It'll be really cool to have been on one side of it and to come back and play on the other side, so to speak.”
On Folarin Balogun
Another Arsenal-USA connection is 21-year-old striker Folarin Balogun, who was born in New York to Nigerian parents and grew up in England. He has played for England in U-17 and U-21 UEFA competitions and for the USA in a 2018 youth tournament in the Czech Republic.
Balogun was not called in by England for Euro 2024 qualifying games against Italy and Ukraine during this international break despite scoring 16 goals this season for French Ligue 1 team Reims on loan from Arsenal. He was called up for England's U-21s, but the FA later issued a statement that he withdrew through injury without giving any specifics. An Instagram post of Balogun outside an Orlando establishment on Wednesday fueled speculation that he has decided to play for the USMNT.
Turner was asked about Balogun.
"I spoke to Flo,” Turner said. “We obviously had most of our preseason together, and I knew going into it he had some roots in U.S. So he and I developed a relationship pretty quickly. That's pretty much the extent of it. We check in on each other here and there.
"He'd be a great addition to our national team. I think he's done really well, obviously, for his club on loan, and we'll see. The decision has to come from the heart, because it's not necessarily an easy task to come and play in these Concacaf games. It's a tough region at times. So for us, we'd be really grateful to have him, but his heart needs to be in it."
Photos: John Dorton/ISI Photos, Doug Zimmerman /ISI Photos
Wonder if there was a question why Arteta started Ramsdale for the 2nd leg of the Sporting match, which they lost? That was not a sign of confidence in Turner from the manager, so I doubt he will get another start this season.