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Jay Heaps on Matt Turner: “He’s the best defensive ping pong player I’ve ever seen”

Jay Heaps talks about the growth of Matt Turner.

FBL-CONCACAF-GOLD-QAT-USA Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Jay Heaps was the head coach of the New England Revolution when Matt Turner joined the club in 2016. The future U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper went undrafted after playing collegiate soccer at Fairfield University. Although he never made a start for Heaps, Turner’s talent was always evident.

“We just put [Turner] in goal to stop shots during practice. His feet were a little behind, but man, he could make a save at any time,” Heaps recalled during an interview with The Bent Musket in October.

In 2016, Turner was supporting veterans Bobby Shuttleworth and Brad Knighton as well as Cody Cropper, who came from Europe. Cropper got the nod in 2017 after Shuttleworth was traded to Minnesota United.

Looking for minutes, Turner spent weekends with the Richmond Kickers of the USL. Goalkeeping coach Remi Roy watched the games on his phone to offer advice.

Turner took it all on board, improving in training while he waited for an opportunity with the Revs. He never got a start under Heaps, though there were moments when the coaching staff considered it.

“There were many times we were like, ‘We should make this move,’” Heaps stated. “He was doing enough in training where we were like, ‘Can we make this move?’ It was just about if he was game tested enough.”

Looking back, Heaps admits that Turner was likely ready to be the starter but it was hard for him to make that decision at the time.

“I’ll be honest with you, if it would have been a different time in my arc, like where I was as a coach, and if I had fresh eyes on it and a little bit more leeway then he would’ve gotten the start,” Heaps said. “He was starting to show more. It was just about if it was the right time to pull the trigger to get him in there.”

Heaps’ tenure as Revolution head coach came to an end on Sep. 19, 2017. Assistant coach Tommy Soehn took the reigns for the rest of the season before Brad Friedel was named as the seventh head coach in club history.

Friedel, a former goalkeeper himself, gave Turner his first start. It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing from there, as Turner sometimes found himself outside of the gameday 18.

Regardless of his position on the squad, Turner remained committed to getting better. Turner is now one of the best goalkeepers in MLS and gets regular call-ups to the US Men’s National Team. Many believe that he will play in Europe one day.

Heaps joked that Turner became “the best goalie in the league because of his ping pong skills.” The Revolution locker room would regularly hold tournaments during Heaps’ time. The former coach said Turner “was the best defensive ping pong player” he’s ever seen, noting, “No one can get a ball past Matt Turner, even on the ping pong table.”

Heaps attended the USMNT’s World Cup Qualifier against Jamaica in Austin, TX on Oct. 7. As he watched Turner collect his eighth international shutout in eleven appearances, he couldn’t help but think about how much the New Jersey native has grown since his rookie season with the Revs.

“He’s exponentially better from when he got [to the Revs],” Heaps said. “Talented, yes, but he worked on the finer points of his game and I don’t think there’s a hole in his game now. I really don’t. His shot saving was always good—that’s a lot of instinct—but his presence, his feet, his tactical awareness have definitely gotten better and that’s by doing all the hard work he’s done.”