FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Matt Turner had relatively modest goals for the 2018 season.
Entering his third year as a professional and without an MLS appearance to his name, the 24-year-old set his sights on playing 5-10 games with the New England Revolution. But after winning the starting job in preseason and beginning the year as the Revolution’s number one goalkeeper those objectives quickly changed.
Turner’s aim became 34 starts – a full season – and a playoff appearance, and midway through the campaign both looked like achievable targets. The young goalkeeper garnered league-wide praise as the Revs raced out to their best first half of a season in 10 years.
Then came a midsummer slump and a nine-game winless run, and as head coach Brad Friedel made several changes he turned to veteran goalkeeper Brad Knighton, in part because Knighton had earned the opportunity, but also to give Turner a respite from the spotlight.
Knighton started the next seven games, but with the playoffs out of reach heading into this past weekend’s finale against the Montreal Impact, Friedel opted to give Turner 90 more minutes before heading into a long offseason, explaining his decision postgame.
“We’re at a stage of the season, once we’re knocked out of the playoffs, where we needed to see a lot of what some players were made of inside,” said Friedel. “Matt Turner had a very good first third of the season, and then had a little bit of a confidence drop, and that’s not easy to take as a goalkeeper, and it was his first season.
“I didn’t tell him he was playing until about an hour and 45 minutes before the game, when I named the team, and I wanted to see what his reaction was like. I thought his reaction was very good.”
In fact, Turner’s reaction couldn’t have been better. He made four solid saves and kept his fifth clean sheet of the season, guiding the Revs to a 1-0 win to close the year. It was a reminder of Turner’s potential, and an important performance as he aims to enter 2019 at full confidence.
The victory, however, was somewhat bittersweet.
“It’s nice to have that little added confidence going into the offseason, especially coming off a shutout win,” said Turner, who said it felt “amazing” to get back on the field after almost two months. “But now it just feels like we’ve left things, like we had more to do. We’ll build off this and come in for next season.”
Turner now heads into what he calls “an important offseason” looking to improve upon his decision making, his command of the box on crosses, and his sharpness with the ball at his feet.
Those are areas in which Turner knows he can improve, and he also knows he’ll need to be at the top of his game each and every day, all season long, if he wants to reach his goal of playing 34 matches and getting the Revolution back to the playoffs next season.
With the lessons learned in 2018, Turner is confident that he can make those hopes a reality.
“This is a business,” said Turner. “I’m a professional athlete, and if I’m not doing my job, I’m not going to play. That’s the reality of the situation. I worked my hardest to get back into the team and I was rewarded tonight with a spot in the starting 11. I’d like to think I made the most of that again.
“I’m going to approach [this offseason] like I approached this past offseason and the offseason before that. Brad’s not the kind of guy that’s going to give you a spot on the team or a spot in the starting 11 based off the past – he wants what’s going on right now. I need to make sure I show up in January ready to go, ready to claw my way to the top again, and hopefully play 34 games, plus more.”