In 2013, MLS teams were keeping tabs on UConn goalkeeper Andre Blake. The Philadelphia Union made Blake the No. 1 pick in the 2014 MLS draft, and he has proven himself, twice earning the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year award.
Scouts arriving in Storrs might have zoomed past Fairfield without a second thought, missing out on another prospect — sophomore goalkeeper Matt Turner. Few could have known Turner would go on to become a US national team performer and finish second to Blake in Goalkeeper of the Year voting in 2020.
Turner attempted to place his progress in perspective after the Revolution announced he had signed a contract extension Tuesday.
“Who knows if I would’ve turned out to be the same goalkeeper if I started playing when I was younger, if I went into Fairfield and started all four years instead of two years, if I was a varsity player as a freshman in high school?” Turner said. “As a starter in New England, when I was playing at Fairfield, when I was playing in high school, when I was playing at [US] camp last year, I’ve had a ton of really humbling moments that have made me just not want to take any specific moment for granted. I hope that someday my journey can inspire somebody else when they’re struggling or they’re questioning their abilities.”
Expectations were not high for Turner, who did not earn the Fairfield University starting role until 2014. Even after totaling 13 shutouts in 19 matches as a junior, Turner did not rate an invitation to the MLS Combine, joining the Revolution as an undrafted free agent following a tryout in 2016. Turner was earning the MLS minimum $75,000 when he emerged as the Opening Day starter in 2018. Turner’s contract bumped up to $200,000 annually before last season, when he was named Revolution player of the year as Bruce Arena guided the team to the Eastern Conference final.
“[Arena] showed me that I played well and that I deserved more money,” Turner said in a video conference from US national team training camp in Bradenton, Fla. “He wanted to see me commit more years to the team so there’s one extra year on the end of it. I think it’s a good example for the other guys on the team that there’s a reward for playing well here in New England.
“As a player it means the world to know where you stand in a coach’s mind. To know exactly what your role is, it’s a super powerful thing. I’m starting to see that more and more with Bruce and our identity is starting to show because of it. He’s a guy who’s going to tell you like it is and a guy who is going to reward you for good play and I hope that other guys on the team see that.”
Turner, 26, said he has not ruled out a transfer to Europe but first hopes to compete for an MLS title.
“I’ve always said my goal here is to win championships, bring things home to these fans who are so deserving of that,” said Turner, who recently purchased a home in South Boston. “The City of Boston, they only really care about the teams that are winning, as you saw down the stretch of 2020. I want to continue to help build this organization, help them become more of a staple in the sports scene in Boston and I want to win games, and I know Bruce wants that, too. I was just really happy that he rewarded me for good play. It just felt right. It felt like the right decision for me and my family.”
Turner has developed into an accomplished shot-stopper, thanks to anticipation and athleticism, but can improve playing balls with his feet. Turner, who figures to be a reserve when the US meets Trinidad & Tobago on Jan. 31 in Orlando, Fla., believes high-level training sessions with the US are helping sharpen his game.
The Revolution concluded last season with a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference final on Dec. 6.
“I think we really could’ve won that game, even though we didn’t play our best,” Turner said. “That’s the disappointing thing, but I think it really sets the tone for us for 2021. We understand what it takes to win now and I think our team has the taste for it and you’re seeing a lot of the core guys coming back. When you’re a professional athlete, all you want to do is win. I think a lot of the guys are really hungry and hopefully throughout 2021 we stay healthy and never lose a sense of that hunger when it comes down the stretch and we can hold each other accountable throughout the season.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.