The goalkeeper didn’t play football seriously until he was 14. He reflects on his time at the World Cup, Arsenal’s title challenge and family visitors
Matt Turner’s football journey is not what you might call traditional. He didn’t start playing the game until he was 14 – and that was because he wanted to stay in shape for basketball and baseball. Even then, he only played in goal when another player went down with an injury. From there he has progressed from MLS standout to Arsenal to USA’s starting keeper at last year’s World Cup. But he always wants more, something that is clear when he looks back at the team’s performance in Qatar.
“There’s a hunger,” Turner says, reflecting on the US loss to the Netherlands in the round of 16. In the group stages, they had impressed with their style of play and went toe-to-toe with England in a 0-0 draw. The Americans had also achieved the main objectives born in the wreckage of the disastrous qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup: make it to Qatar and reach the knockout stages.
But Turner feels the US were capable of more in Qatar, and falling short of that has stung. “I think [future US generations] will look at it as a stepping stone, but also a bit of a missed opportunity in some ways, because we were playing really, really well. I think a lot of us felt a lot of disappointment after,” he says.
What they achieved was commendable, though. The disappointment comes only because in the moment, they felt genuinely capable of making history – and not just in the future, but right then, with that team.
“If you had told us beforehand: ‘Oh, you’re gonna get to the round of 16. You’re gonna play well, but you’re not going to win.’ You would have been like: ‘You’ll take that. You’ll take that.’ Because that’s what a lot of [US] teams have done in previous World Cups. But being there, being on the precipice of a quarter-final, and just not being able to make the plays we needed to make, I think some people will look on it as a disappointment.”
For Turner, how the US will ultimately define the 2022 World Cup depends on what happens when they host the tournament in 2026. “I think it kind of depends on how the next one goes … if it’s a springboard or if it’s a missed opportunity, in my opinion,” he says.
The US had the second-youngest roster in Qatar. In 2026, the core players should return with even more experience – and on home soil.
“I think for us, it’s clear. You know, having a core group of guys that were so close to doing something really spectacular … The hunger is there, you know, the drive is there. The passion is a lit fire that I imagine will be just growing and growing leading into ‘26,” he says.
One aspect of the team he does not want to expand on is the recent fiasco surrounding the parents of Gio Reyna and former (and possibly future) US coach, Gregg Berhalter.
Like many of his teammates, Turner is uninterested – at least when it comes to the media – in wading any further into the details of what happened in Qatar, where Reyna and Berhalter appeared to have a falling out. But he is notably supportive of Reyna now, emphasizing the effort the Borussia Dortmund player showed in the most recent US training camp.
As USA’s European-based players returned from the World Cup, a significant number of them – including Turner – faced a battle for playing time. Others – like Brenden Aaronson, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams at Leeds – found themselves in relegation battles. But Turner sees such struggles as a positive for the US in the long-term.
“If you think about a large part of the guys who are in those battles, or fighting for playing time, whatever it is, a lot of them are still so young,” says the 28-year-old, whose appearances for Arsenal have been restricted to the FA Cup and Europa League. “Having these experiences and life experiences, they’re only going to help them … and help us as a country.”
And Turner believes there’s a lot to celebrate already: particularly the number of US players in Europe’s top leagues.
“Obviously in a perfect world, we’re all playing at top clubs around Europe, and we’re all playing in the Champions League,” he says. “But that’s not really a realistic sort of thing right now. But I think if you said 10 years ago that we’ll have this many players in the Premier League. People would have rolled their eyes.”
He adds that the more Americans there are overseas, the more opportunities others will have, eventually paying dividends for the national team. “It’s a process,” he says.
For Turner, that process has taken him to the top of the Premier League with Arsenal. Under Mikel Arteta’s tutelage, Turner feels he’s become stronger, faster, and sharper mentally. And with the Gunners in a title battle with Manchester City, he’s learned what it takes to win with high stakes week in, week out.
“I think playing under a manager like Mikel, who’s very demanding day in and day out has helped me. Being around really high-quality players, and … our team performing at a high level, seeing what it takes to succeed consistently at the pinnacle was really eye opening for me,” he says.
Moving to a Premier League club also forced him to root out any weaknesses in his game
“I was able to identify areas that I needed to improve on, that maybe I would be able to get away with in other leagues,” he says. “But in this league, you’re going to get the best players in the world day in and day out.”
As for Arteta’s sketch of a brain and heart holding hands, made famous by Arsenal’s All or Nothing series? That wasn’t just for the show.
“That’s who he is. He likes to make your mind work in different ways, to switch it on and try to get your blood pumping in different ways, to just open your mind,” says Turner.
“And I think one of my favorite qualities about him is that he always has my back. No matter what I do on the pitch, you know, he’s gonna have my back because he knows I work really, really hard. I try my best every single day. And it’s easy to play for a guy like that, no matter how demanding he is. You know, you put yourself out there and you try to make his ideas come to life. And he’ll always back you up.”
Turner is looking forward to continuing his growth, adding new chapters to his unexpected rise, while aiming for the league title with Arsenal. His home in London has been a revolving door, with friends and family eager to see the UK. But if Arsenal win the league, he jokes, he may need to set a cap on family and friends pouring in to celebrate.
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