New England Revolution

Matt Turner’s dazzling display won him MLS Player of the Week. A national team role might be next.

Turner has helped propel New England's strong start to the 2021 season, but the Revolution might have to manage without him during the upcoming Gold Cup.

Matt Turner
Matt Turner during a Revolution game against the Philadelphia Union in May, 2021. Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

In stoppage time of Saturday’s frantic encounter with New York City FC, it appeared the end had finally come for the Revolution’s three-game winning streak.

A deflected cross fell perfectly at the feet of New York playmaker Maxi Moralez. The skillful Argentine didn’t hesitate, striking the ball cleanly and powerfully towards the corner of the goal. New England’s 3-2 lead — gained only moments earlier after a dramatic second half — looked doomed.

Except, to Moralez’s visible astonishment, his shot was parried by the outstretched hand of Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner. The New England goalie summoned a seemingly miraculous reflex save, palming the ball down to teammate Jon Bell, who recovered from his own momentary shock in time to gratefully sweep the ball away from danger.

The whole sequence happened in less than five seconds, leaving virtually everyone — Moralez, Bell, and those watching the game — at a loss for words.

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“Are you kidding me, Matt Turner?” exclaimed Revolution play-by-play announcer Brad Feldman on the CBS Boston broadcast. “Get out of town!”

Turner, a New Jersey native, coincidentally grew up in a town not that far away from where the game was being played that night at Red Bull Arena. But as the man who went undrafted coming out of Fairfield University can attest, he’s come a long way from committing seriously to the game of soccer at the comparatively late age of 16 at Saint Joseph Regional High School.

Unusual and improbable as his story is, Turner is now undeniably one of the most important players on one of the best teams in Major League Soccer. And his stoppage time save was merely the last in a long line of crucial stops in Saturday’s 3-2 win over New York.

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An initial point-blank block in New England’s penalty area during the first half, plus his last-gasp save against Moralez (with a a string of less notable though no less important saves in between) almost obscured an even greater achievement that Turner has made look routine since joining the Revolution: stopping a penalty kick, which he also did in the first half.

The 12th minute penalty save was Turner’s fourth in 10 opportunities in all competitions during his career with New England (including a clutch stop in the team’s 2020 playoff run). In a league where penalty kicks are converted approximately 75 percent of the time, Turner’s 40 percent save rate from the spot underscores the above-average value he brings to the Revolution.

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Take some of the details from Saturday’s game as an example. According to the “expected goals” statistic, New York created far more than New England (3.1 vs. 1.8). Obviously, given the scoreline of the game, not only did Revolution field players do more with less in front of goal, but Turner managed to help lower New York’s actual output by more than a goal.

Asked about Turner’s importance in a Monday press conference, Revolution head coach Bruce Arena had a more fundamental analysis of goalkeepers that nonetheless conveyed a similar point.

“I’d like to believe with goalkeepers, they win you some games and don’t lose you any,” noted Arena, himself a former goalie. “That’s the case with Matt Turner. Matt never loses us a game and often wins us some games. Over a season, that’s a real plus for a team.”

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The net result of Saturday is that the Revolution escaped with yet another win (the team’s fourth in a row). New England found a way to defeat a rival despite not playing a particularly clean 90 minutes of soccer, and further entrenched their position atop the Eastern Conference. For his efforts, Turner was voted MLS Player of the Week, the first Revolution player to win the award since 2017.

“I personally think that we could have done a better job defensively as a whole, but I always say that it’s nice to be able to contribute to the team and pick up guys when they might make a mistake or an error,” Turner explained on Monday. “I hope that they would do the same for me. And it was a good night for me and the most important thing of all is that we got three points in a tough Eastern Conference game.”

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New England, now back in action after a three-week international break, plunges ahead in a busy schedule with a return to Gillette Stadium on Wednesday to play the New York Red Bulls at 7 p.m. It will be the team’s first home game since the state allowed sports venues to return to full capacity.

With four games in the next two weeks, Arena’s commitment to squad rotation will once again be tested. But despite showcasing the roster’s depth in the first nine games of the season (in which he’s picked nine different lineups), Arena has yet to rest Turner.

That will likely change in July, though out of necessity, rather than rotation. The United States Men’s National Team will play in the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup (set to run from July 10 through the final on August 1).

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Turner and teammate Henry Kessler were included in the provisional U.S. roster for the tournament. A final 23-man squad will be named on June 30, and Arena — who coached the U.S. team in multiple tenures — thinks Turner will make the cut.

“I’m sure Matt will be called up by the U.S,” Arena admitted. When asked about the impact of potentially losing his starting goalkeeper, the veteran coach was characteristically direct.

“The impact is you play your other goalkeepers,” Arena flatly explained. “That’s the impact. However you want to add that up into whatever it is, that remains to be seen. We have to go out and play the games.”

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New England could play at least four games without Turner should he be included in the U.S. squad, meaning that backups Brad Knighton and Earl Edwards Jr. would feature.

Still, the possibility of playing for the national team is a point of particular pride for Turner. His international career includes one start to this point, made in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago in January. The U.S. won the game 7-0, and Turner (true to form) saved a penalty.

Given his circuitous career path, rising from the bottom of the depth chart to now being so central to New England’s MLS Cup dreams, Turner acknowledged taking time to reflect on his story following the January game for the U.S. team.

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“But then I got a lot of guys here around me that hold me to a certain standard and so it wasn’t really time for me to dwell on,” he added.

And while his commitment to potentially play for the U.S. in the Gold Cup will mean time away from regular season Revolution games, he maintains that it all coalesces into the same goal that’s guided him through is entire career: Keep pushing upward.

“I know I still have a lot to prove here in MLS and on the National Team level if I want to be considered every time the U.S. steps out on the field to play. So, it was really nice just to reflect on things, all the hard work that went into it, all the extra hours that went into it. But also, reminding myself that this isn’t the destination, it’s just a step along the way in the journey.”

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