Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Arsenal preseason: USMNT keeper Matt Turner is on a mission to earn first-team minutes ahead of 2022 World Cup

BALTIMORE — Arsenal kicking off their United States tour with a date against Everton on Sunday is a special moment for newly-acquired American goalkeeper Matt Turner. After leaving the New England Revolution to move to Arsenal and making his debut for the club in a preseason friendly against Nuremberg, the United States International is back stateside as the team gets into gear.

Turner is looking to integrate and impress the coaches enough to earn first-team minutes and give Gregg Berhalter a tough decision to make for his No. 1 keeper for the World Cup in Qatar. 

But while he hasn’t been gone for long, things certainly feel different this time around. Turner, a lifelong Arsenal fan long before joining the club, knows what these tours mean to American fans as he discussed his preseason plans, staying sharp and much more with CBS Sports.

“Being back in the United States as an Arsenal player is special for me because when I was just a fan, I would love to have had access to the players. I would have loved to come to see them play, especially on the East Coast.” Turner said. “So to be on the East Coast, close enough to New Jersey where I grew up and to be tangible to the fans, I’m really really excited to start creating those relationships. Just to be tangible to those people and show young players that the pathway is possible.”

Looking around the team hotel in Baltimore, the feeling was mutual as Mohamed Elneny hung around to sign autographs for fans after training, Arsenal supporters gathered at a local pub and you could feel the excitement in the air as the Premier League rolls through town. 

These are the kind of relationships that Turner is speaking of. It’s clear that while they mean something to fans, the players also take notice and enjoy connecting when they can. It’s a mutual exchange that helps both sides grow the sport in America. Turner’s own path began as an undrafted free agent out of Fairfield University in 2016. After signing off a preseason trial with the New England Revolution and impressing in USL with the Richmond Kickers, Turner finally got his chance with the first-team squad in 2018 and the rest is history.

Major League Soccer is one of the toughest travel leagues in the world, with seven-hour flights from Boston to Vancouver being a common occurrence. Despite having a bit of travel experience, Turner is in the midst of his first European preseason with Arsenal and things are a bit different.

“In England, the overall structure of the preseason is a lot different than in the United States. There’s a bit more travel with the tours but also the double sessions and the intensity of the sessions. The length that we’re out on the field is a lot different than what I was used to in New England. It’s just important to keep my body at 100% and keep up with the speed of things,” Turner said.

Already having a game under his belt for Arsenal in Germany, Turner is acclimating to how Arsenal wants their keepers to play and it will only improve with more time at the club. Playing the ball out of the back is an area of focus, which aligns well with what Berhalter asks out of him for international duty, but not something he was tasked with in New England. More playing time will only give Turner a chance to improve and review his game on a daily basis.

“There are loads of games in the beginning of the year, so my goal is to have as good of a preseason as possible and show the coaching staff that they can trust me and put me in competitive games,” Turner said. “I think there are like six Europa League games, and a few cup games as well at the beginning of the season. If I can gain the trust of the coaching staff, then I could see myself getting some good playing time before the World Cup.”

With both Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath loaned out to Championship clubs in search of consistent minutes, the pressure is on Turner to succeed in the top flight. He’ll have plenty of chances if he can earn the No. 2 spot for Arsenal and play in the Europa League — where all of Turner’s matches can be streamed on Paramount+.

Defender Rob Holding has been a big help for Turner with the process of settling down, driving Turner to and from training in London. Turner has also connected with Aaron RamsdaleKieran Tierney and Ben White during his overseas move. Turner summed it up best, “The only things that I was a little worried about were normal things, like even in high school when you change schools, it’s all normal stuff.” 

Bonding with teammates has made it easier for Turner to get up to speed as he feels comfortable at Arsenal. Add in the level of comfort with being back in the United States and it’s one of the enjoyable aspects of preseason. Granit Xhaka also spoke about how much of a difference a normal preseason has made with players getting to know each other and get acclimated to the club and it shows in Turner’s transition.

Turner is in a good spot to impress and with enough hard work, who knows if one day he finds himself as the top-choice keeper. He has already risen through the ranks once before, so it’s not exactly out of the question or surprising to see him pull it off again.

How to watch Arsenal’s U.S. preseason opener

Club friendly matchup: Arsenal vs. Everton 

Date: 
Saturday, July 16 | Time: 7 p.m. ET 

Location: M&T Bank Stadium — Baltimore, Maryland

TV: None | Live stream: Arsenal app

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