When the US takes the field against Wales tonight, it will be their first World Cup match in over eight years. A lot has changed in that time – especially for Matt Turner.
In 2014, when the United States were knocked out by Belgium in Brazil, Tim Howard was the star of the show when he made a game-record 15 saves in one game. A student at Fairfield University watched in awe, with a dream of patrolling the posts at the height of international football.
Now the student is in charge. Matt looks set to follow in Howard’s footsteps and head to Al Rayyan Stadium to take on Gareth Bale and co, having started 19 of his country’s previous 27 matches, including winning CONCACAF Gold Cup 2021. Typically, the level-headed custodian doesn’t take anything for granted.
“I play to the best of my ability and let my work of the past 18 months speak for itself,” he says. “I’ve played 20 games in the national team over the last few years and I think I’m in a good position to play in the World Cup. At the end of the day, if Gregg [Berhalter] decision about Ethan [Horvath] or Sean [Johnson]and feels this is the best way to get results, I support the decisions he makes.
“I always want to challenge myself at the highest possible level”
“I support him as a manager and I will do my very best to try and win. Obviously I want to play and I feel I have done enough to prove I can play at that level but you can but checking so much and I feel like I’ve done what I can.”
Matt only won his first cap for his country in January 2021, but his meteoric rise to become his country’s number one is befitting of his career. His underdog story began at the age of 14 when he first started playing football, filling in as a goalkeeper when a teammate got injured. He later nearly gave up the game to pursue a career in business before a trial at New England Revolution in 2016 changed his life.
That belief in his abilities eventually led him to Gold Cup triumph, when he also collected the Golden Glove award. Further acclaim came when he was crowned MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, but all this was not enough to guarantee his country’s goalkeeping jersey, which led him to take the next step in his career and end up in North London.
“I was on the bench for one game in World Cup qualifying, and the message was that playing week in week out in MLS wasn’t enough,” he revealed. “So I’m chasing whatever else is out there. I train at a very high level, challenging and play under a very good coach who believes in me, and that feels very nice.
“There are no guarantees in this game. What matters is how you train and how you gain the trust of your manager and those around you. I was not given specific clarity about my role [at Arsenal] – just that if you show up and work hard, anything can happen.
“Going from a shoo-in starter to a place where I wasn’t guaranteed to be a regular starter was a risk, but it felt like a necessary risk to take. I always want to challenge myself at the highest possible level.”
The risk seems to have paid off, with Matt named to a youthful US team with an average age of 24 – the second youngest in Qatar behind Ghana. “I will be like a grandpa, 28 years old!” he laughs, but it is clear that Berhalter’s eye is on 2026, when the US will be one of the host countries.
‘Anything is possible at the World Cup’
What they may lack in experience they make up for in confidence. Despite being placed in a tough group alongside Wales, England and Iran, Matt suggests there is hope for the US to surprise and penetrate deep into the league.
“We are confident in ourselves,” he added. “I think our group is on average the highest FIFA ranked group, so it’s tough and every game is tough. Of course we want to talk about England against the US, but we each have a game for that and anything is possible in the World Cup . If you look too far into the future, you will get into trouble.”
While he won’t look beyond the opener against the Welsh, Matt admits it’s been hard not to focus on meeting the Three Lions since he first walked through the door at London Colney, with three familiar faces who provided enough. of friendly trash talk.
Bukayo Saka, Ben White and his rival for our jersey Aaron Ramsdale have all wrong-footed him, with the quartet set to face England against the United States on Friday.
Looking ahead to that meeting, he said: “We’ve had a bit of a chat with the English lads so I’m really looking forward to it. Playing in a World Cup is so special, and it’s the pinnacle of your career, so to share that with a country I’m new to and have gotten used to would be really special.
“Most of my banter comes with Aaron. It’s just small talk like you would have with anyone, you talk about things like the Revolutionary War – that’s more that I’m joking about it! They’re laughing and joking that they’re going to crush us, so it’s all good!”
“I’m very excited, it’s a dream come true for me”
Should the results be as desired and the US reach the last 16 and possibly beyond, the next few weeks will be among the highlights of Matt’s career. But at the moment he is just thrilled to have gotten the call-up for Qatar as his remarkable rise through the game continues.
“I’m very excited, it’s a dream come true for me,” he smiled. “I didn’t get into football until a little later, so the first World Cup I saw was in South Africa in 2010. I was already 16, but that was the sporting event that made me fall in love with the beautiful game.
“I remember Landon Donovan scoring in stoppage time to beat Algeria and take the US through the group stage; I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the same emotion watching a match. That World Cup was great, but that moment pushed me to really go after football.”
Inspired by the World Cup, Matt now hopes he can be the inspiration for the USA team to really impress on the biggest stage of them all.
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