With the official start of MLS training camp around the corner and a new season on the horizon, New England Revolution players have begun making their way back to Foxboro, voluntary early arrivals no doubt spurred by the surprise run to last season’s MLS Cup semifinals and the belief this season can take that journey a step further.
The rapid turnaround from last December, when the pandemic-delayed 2020 season ended with a 1-0 loss to eventual champion Columbus, means there hasn’t been a whole lot of time for reflection or recovery. But there was enough time for standout goalkeeper Matt Turner to make a lifetime memory.
Turner earned his first cap for the US national team on Jan. 31, earning the win in a 7-0 shutout victory in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago. With one of his signature skills on full display — Turner stopped a penalty kick in the 66th minute — the Revolution star woke the soccer world up to what our New England fan base already knows.
Like, really good.
Like one of the best natural shot-stoppers currently in the game good, a keeper who should get every opportunity to anchor the USMNT for years to come. Those roster decisions are out of his control (and in the hands of national team coach Gregg Berhalter), but one taste of the experience guarantees Turner will be doing everything in his power to make it happen again.
“When it was finally time to walk out, that was a really special moment for me, to walk out with the crest on my chest,” Turner said in a recent conversation with the Globe. “To be standing there, arms linked with everyone, the national anthem playing, that was an emotional moment for me.”
As Turner’s own history shows, it would be unwise to bet against him. From barely recruited high school player to third-string goalie at Fairfield University, to college standout soon buried on the Revolution depth chart, to MLS starter who in November, was voted the top American-born goalkeeper in MLS, finishing runner up to Jamaican international Andre Blake of the Philadelphia Union for MLS goalkeeper of the year, Turner has made a business of defying expectations.
He does with a formula that balances emotions against a practical plan. Watch the 2010 World Cup team take America on a rollicking, unexpected ride to the knockout stage and tell yourself you can do that too? Sure. So you begin to hone the hand-eye coordination skills developed through baseball, basketball and every backyard game you, your friends, and even your two older sisters can invent and channel them into soccer. And then work, work and work some more. And even when you get where you dreamed, representing your country on the pitch, you have the formula to play your best.
“I knew it was going to be emotional, but I had a pre-emptive plan for that two minutes, the length of the national anthem, that I would let it sink in. From there, everything was business,” Turner said. “I choked up a little. I can’t tell you how many games of this national team I watched since I got into soccer in 2010. I don’t think I missed one. So many times I longed to be on that platform and that stage. It was so special — my grandfather was in the military, and he was proud to see me represent my country in my own way. I felt the weight of the New England supporters, the people from my home town in Park Ridge [N.J], I felt it all in that moment.
“I allowed myself to feel it, and from there it was game time.”
Otherwise known as time to shine. For Revolution coach Bruce Arena, Turner has helped set the foundation for the two-time national team coach (1998-2006, 2017-2018), the man the Kraft family brought to New England to build a champion. Not one prone to rave reviews or hyped-up praise, Arena has repeatedly and consistently credited Turner as being the team’s most consistent player.
Turner started 22 of 23 games last season, leading the Revolution to a franchise low 1.08 goals against average. The 26-year-old also set a personal record with six shutouts.
He added another for the United States, secured on yet one more signature PK stop, this time with a perfectly-timed dive to his right.
“It’s always something I’ve been decent at,” Turner said. “I was thinking about this with one of my buddies — I don’t know the exact number I’ve stopped in my pro career, I think it’s seven — but in six of the seven they’ve come against guys I don’t have any history information on. When I don’t have that stuff in my mind I’m just there in the moment and I have to wait as long as possible to see which way I think the guy is going to go. In general I’ve always been a talented shot stopper; it’s what jump-started my career.
“If I turn my mind off and focus on the moment and be completely engaged in that moment, on the shooter, I allow my instinct to take over. On that particular penalty I felt like with the way he was running up and the angle he was taking on the ball he was trying to send me the wrong way and that’s why I dove the way I did. When you dive, you have to trust that’s the way it’s going.”
The arc of the Revolution story appears to be going up, with the core that led last year’s playoff run back to try again. With Turner behind them, anything is possible.