The USMNT keeper could be late for the 2022 World Cup

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Back in June 2010, Matt Turner was a 15-year-old high school baseball player who only studied soccer to keep fit for his favorite sports. “It was just a hobby,” Turner said in an interview with Emox News earlier this week.

Then he accidentally discovered the World Cup.

I couldn’t get a summer job because of my age, but that meant I was home most afternoons so I thought I was going to see the opening game, ”said Turner. “When South Africa – this team I hadn’t invested in – made that noise, I remember goosebumps. That piqued my interest in the tournament and I decided to watch all of the US national team’s games. “

Now, a little over a decade later, the New England Revolution goalkeeper is somehow poised to make his international debut for the US against Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday [7 p.m. ET, FS1], the first game of 2021 for an American squad eager to return to the biggest sporting event in the world.

How did this happen?

BRADENTON, FL – JANUARY 8: Matt Turner of the United States laughs during an exercise at the IMG Academy on January 8, 2020 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by John Dorton / ISI Photos / Getty Images)

In the age of the star teenage professionals, Turner is a step backwards. As a child, he played soccer along with baseball, basketball, and hockey, but actually gave up the sport before resuming it as a 5-foot-4, 150-pound ninth grader at Saint Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, New Jersey . “They never let me play in goal,” he said of his youth coach. “And that’s where I always wanted to be.”

The freshman team was fun, but that was Turner’s interest. As a die-hard New York Yankees fan, he was only vaguely aware of Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls. Little did he know about New Jersey’s long history in producing USMNT players, including World Cup goalkeepers Tim Howard and Tony Meola. But everything changed during the US run to a Group C win that summer.

“Nothing made me feel the feelings I felt when the US was playing,” said Turner. “The goal against England, obviously this counterattack against Algeria – I yelled at my TV and jumped up and down. When the World Cup ended, I was wondering what had happened to me in the last month. No other sport I’d ever seen or played made me feel these emotions. That got me into soccer and made me get better. “

Turner began to practice constantly. He looked for YouTube clips of Howard, Néstor Muslera from Uruguay and Peter Schmeichel from Manchester United.

He got better and bigger – Turner is now 6-3 – and as a junior he won the starting varsity job at St. Joe’s, a grate-firing powerhouse but a far cry from being in football. “I was very busy because my team wasn’t that good,” said Turner.

The following season he moved to Clarkstown FC in neighboring New York state. His goal was to play in the NCAA, but that was hardly guaranteed. If Fairfield University goalkeeping coach Javier Decima hadn’t taken any chances for him, it might not have happened at all.

“Anyone can see a good player – the hard part is finding those who you think have potential and then getting that potential out of them,” said Decima. “Matt was very athletic. He had big hands. And because he played baseball, he could use his footwork to adjust to the ball and make those big saves. But when it came to the game itself, he lacked experience. “

Turner was offered a place on the Stags, but no scholarship. He struggled at first. Playing the ball with your feet was a constant adventure. “I couldn’t take my own kicks until I was 18,” he said. In his second season at Fairfield, he made a mistake that was so outrageous that the lowlight ended up in ESPN’s SportsCenter. “Most college-level players would never come back to it – especially no goalkeeper,” said Decima.

Yet Turner showed the mental strength that would help him take the starting job after graduating from Michael O’Keeffe, who stopped the New Zealand national team at the 2012 Olympics, and eventually grabbing the attention of the undersigned Revs Year 2016 as an unoccupied college player. “Matt’s mindset,” said Decima, “is second to none.”

Turner’s internal drive has not gone unnoticed by US trainer Gregg Berhalter. “It’s day and night compared to last January,” Berhalter said of Turner’s progress when speaking to reporters on Monday. “He had the reflexes, but now his entire game is improved. He gained confidence. “

A good Sunday performance would keep Turner firmly in the mix in a position of need; While Zack Steffen from Manchester City Berhalter is the clear No. 1 goalkeeper, the competition is wide open after that. Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid and Ethan Horvath are all battling for places. The 2022 World Cup is just around the corner. The Americans’ qualification is due to begin in September. If they do, three goalkeepers will travel to Qatar.

“It seems like there are a lot of options,” said Turner. “I can’t look too far into the future and think about all these possibilities – just being in the national team now means a lot to me – but being part of a World Cup squad is absolutely the ultimate goal.”

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