Photo by Peter Glaser on Unsplash

New Jersey's Matt Turner excels in World Cup debut

It feels like a lifetime ago that New Jersey's Matt Turner, who attended Bergen County's Saint Joseph Regional High School, was the butt of SportsCenter's Not Top-10 segment as the top clip.

Nine years later, Turner conceded one goal in three World Cup games-- a penalty to Wales' Gareth Bale-- en route to an undefeated group stage and a berth in the Round of 16.

Through all the trials, tribulations, and debates on walking away from the sport for good, this story of perseverance has rewarded Turner with so much more than he could've ever dreamed of.

It's a most unfortunate highlight to be so closely tied to. It almost seems rude to lead with one of the biggest blunders he's probably ever made, plastered all over Twitter and SportsCenter after such a good performance on soccer's biggest stage.

Though it can't be scrubbed from the internet, it's part of his incredible rise to an eventual $6 million sale to the English Premier League's Arsenal Gunners, to the best goalkeeper award at the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and to the Round of 16 at the World Cup. All he wanted was to play baseball.

Turner walked on at Fairfield University before going undrafted in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. He essentially walked on to the New England Revolution on a trial run, signing his first professional contract in 2016.

After some ups and downs, some time on loan away from the club, and a slide down the depth chart, it was 2020 when Turner recorded one of the best seasons by a goalkeeper in Revolution history.

It wasn't long before Arsenal gave New England a call and bought the 28-year-old American for a transfer fee that was reported to be worth up to $10 million.

"I was able to realize a dream and this is one of the best days of my life," said Turner about the move. He was given a long-term deal with Arsenal just days after his birthday.

Another year would pass and Turner was selected to the 26-man World Cup roster as the primary starter after the United States qualified for the tournament for the first time since 2014.

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar

In the first group stage game against Wales, Turner had done well to fend off the second half Welsh pushback before Gareth Bale buried his penalty shot late in the match to force the draw.

Keeping the clean sheet against England required one big save towards the end of the first half, but the United States largely held possession throughout the game for the scoreless draw. Nevertheless, it's a great achievement against one of the big favorites in the Cup and the eventual Group B winners. This provided an opportunity for a win-and-you're-in final match against Iran.

And finally, in the match the United States must win to advance out of the group stage, Turner blanks the Iranians. A stressful, gripping 1-0 victory that had supporters sweating buckets through stoppage time.

Those two shutouts moved him past beloved United States goalkeeper Tim Howard for World Cup clean sheets, whose only one was the famous 1-0 win against Algeria in 2010.

The magic would eventually expire in the Round of 16 for the US on Saturday morning against the Netherlands, as the Dutch quickly gathered a lead and were content to defend for the remainder of the game.

Three goals were conceded in the United States elimination; not one was preventable by the goalkeeper named Man of the Match for the losing side. The ones he had prevented were perhaps his best of the tournament:

It's a save he'll remember for the rest of his life.

Turner will be 32 years old at the next World Cup, hosted here in North America. It's hard to say he's a lock to play another game in the World Cup, with some younger keepers undoubtedly ready to make their case, but he's played as well as anyone at the tournament.

From day one, he's represented the United States and New Jersey with class.