ORLANDO, Fla. – Matt Turner had just one save to make in his U.S. Men’s National Team debut on Sunday night at Exploria Stadium, but it was a big one.
Turner went full stretch to his right to deny Alvin Jones from the penalty spot in the 66th minute, preserving a clean sheet as the USMNT rolled to a 7-0 win over a shorthanded Trinidad & Tobago side and began a crucial 2021 international slate in emphatic fashion.
Matt Exploria— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) February 1, 2021
The penalty save – made in the same stadium where Turner stopped Orlando City midfielder Nani from the spot in the playoffs this past November – capped a memorable month for Turner, whose story earned national media attention in the buildup to Sunday’s friendly. The 26-year-old goalkeeper, undrafted out of Fairfield University and seriously introduced to soccer just 10 years ago, had his fairytale debut.
“It’s just a fantastic story,” said USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter. “Picked up goalkeeping late – late bloomer – really performs well in the league, gets his opportunity with the national team, debuts, saves a penalty to maintain the shutout. I mean, it’s a storybook type of saga that Matt’s been going through.”
Berhalter said in the buildup to Sunday’s game that Turner’s “big-save ability” was never in question, so it was no surprise to see him stonewall Jones from 12 yards. After all, Turner – who debuted for the New England Revolution less than three years ago – has now saved penalties for the USMNT, as well as for the Revs in the MLS regular season, MLS Cup Playoffs, and U.S. Open Cup.
Perhaps Turner’s biggest challenge on Sunday night was adapting to the USMNT’s possession-oriented playing style, which relies heavily on the goalkeeper to be clean with the ball at his feet as the group looks to build out of the back. It’s a skill that Turner has worked hard to hone in recent years.
That hard work appeared to pay off against T&T, as Turner completed 100 percent of his passes (16-for-16) without ever launching the ball long.
This was Matt Turner's passing chart tonight. I don't think he ever played a ball more than 15 yards ... and that's exactly how the #USMNT wants him to play.— Jeff Lemieux (@jeff_lemieux) February 1, 2021
Berhalter said postgame that Turner "made the right decision every single time" with his passing. pic.twitter.com/IVWdMDOxRW
“I think he did a great job,” Berhalter said of Turner’s distribution. “There were times when he was under pressure. It was great that guys were opening up, and Matt made the right decision every single time, and that’s all you can ask for.
“I think he did an excellent job, and not only with his feet, but making the penalty save was an amazing moment in the game. I’m really proud of Matt for what he’s done this whole camp.”
As for how Turner’s debut performance might’ve solidified his place in the squad as the USMNT look ahead to a busy 2021 calendar that features Concacaf Nations League Semifinals, the Concacaf Gold Cup, and the start of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying, Berhalter said the focus isn’t how Turner is stacking up against other American goalkeepers, but how he’s stacking up against himself.
“In terms of rating him against the rest of the pool, to me, it’s not even about that,” Berhalter said. “It’s just about how much potential does Matt have, and can he reach his own potential? Can he keep developing and keep improving? If he does that, he’s going to have a very successful career.”