When the United States take the field tonight against Wales, it will be their first World Cup game in more than eight years. A lot has changed in that time – especially for Matt Turner.
Back in 2014, when the States were kicked out in Brazil by Belgium, Tim Howard was the star of the show who made a competition record 15 saves in a game. Watching in admiration was a student at the University of Fairfield, with a dream of patrolling the places at the pinnacle of international football.
Now the student is the teacher. Matt looks set to follow in Howard’s footsteps and step out at the Al Rayyan Stadium to face Gareth Bale and co, having started 19 of his country’s previous 27 games which included winning the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. generally, the custodian of the earth takes nothing for granted.
“I’m playing to the best of my abilities and I’ll let my body of work over the last 18 months speak for itself,” he says. “I have played 20 games in the national team in the last few years, and I think I am in a good position to play in the World Cup. At the end of the day, if Gregg [Berhalter] decide on Ethan [Horvath] or Sean [Johnson]and he feels that this is the best way to get results, I stand behind the decisions he makes.
“I always want to challenge myself at the highest possible level”
“I support him as a manager, and I will play to the best of my abilities to try to win. Obviously, I want to play, and I feel that I have done enough to prove that I can play at that level, but you can only control so much, and I feel like I’ve done what I can.”
Matt won his first cap for his country only in January 2021, but his rapid rise to become his nation’s number one is in keeping with his career. His underdog story began at the age of 14, when he started playing football, and started as a goalkeeper when a teammate got injured. Later, he almost gave up the game to pursue a career in business before a trial in New England Revolution in 2016 changed his life.
This belief in his abilities finally led him to the triumph of the Gold Cup, when he also took the Golden Glove award. Further acclaim came when he was crowned MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, but all this was not enough to guarantee the goalkeeper’s shirt for his country which led him to take the next step in his career, ending up in the north of London.
“I was benched for a World Cup qualifier, and the message was that playing week in week out in MLS wasn’t enough,” he revealed. “So I’m chasing what’s more. I trained at a really high level, challenged, and played under a really good coach who believes in me, and that feels really good.
“There are no guarantees in this game. It’s all about how you train, and how you gain the trust of your manager and those around you. I have not been given specific clarifications about my role [at Arsenal] – just that if you see yourself and work hard, then anything can happen.
“It was a risk to go from being a shoo-in starter to a place where I wasn’t guaranteed to be a regular starter, but I felt like a necessary risk that I had to take. I always want to challenge myself to the highest possible level.”
The risk seems to have paid off, with Matt named in a young USA squad that boasts an average age of 24 – the second youngest in Qatar after Ghana. “I’ll be like a grandfather, 28 years old!” he laughs, but it is clear that Berhalter’s eye is on 2026 when the United States will be one of the host nations.
“In the World Cup, everything is possible”
What they may lack in experience, they make up for in confidence. Despite being placed in a tricky group alongside Wales, England and Iran, Matt suggests hopes are high that the US will spring a surprise and enter the competition.
“We have a belief in ourselves,” he added. “I think our group is the highest ranked FIFA group on average, so it’s tough, and every game is tough. Obviously, we want to talk about England versus the United States, but before that, we have a game each, and in the World Cup, anything is possible. If you look too far into the future, you will find yourself in trouble.”
Although he doesn’t want to look beyond the opener against the Welsh, Matt admits that since walking through the first gate at London Colney, it has been difficult not to focus on the meeting with the three lions, with three familiar faces providing plenty. of friendly discussions.
Bukayo Saka, Ben White and his rival for our shirt Aaron Ramsdale have cleared it out, with the quartet set to face off when England meet the USA on Friday.
Looking ahead to that match, he said: “We had some fun with the English guys, so I’m really looking forward to it. Playing in a World Cup is just such a special thing, and it’s the pinnacle of your career, so you share that with a country that I’m new to and getting used to it would be really special.
“Most of my jokes come with Aaron. It’s just regular jokes like you’d have with anybody, you talk about things like the Revolutionary War – this is more of a joke about it! They laugh and they just joke that they have to crush, so it’s all good!
“I’m very excited, it’s a dream come true for me”
If the results go their way and the US make it to the last 16 and possibly beyond, these next few weeks will rank among the highlights of Matt’s career. But at the moment, he is just thrilled to have received the call-up to Qatar as his remarkable rise in 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 2010 in South Africa. I was already 16 years old but this was the sporting event that made me fall in love with the beautiful game.
“I remember when Landon Donovan scored in stoppage time to beat Algeria and get the United States through the group stage; I don’t think I’ve ever had the same emotion watching a game. This World Cup was amazing, but that moment is what prompted me to really go after football.”
After being inspired by the World Cup, Matt is now hoping that he can be the inspiration for the US team to make a real impression on the biggest stage of all.
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