Adrian Clewlow was the goalkeeping coach at the Richmond Kickers when Matt Turner was loaned to the United Soccer League team in 2016. An early conversation helped Clewlow understand Turner as both a player and a person.
“There was one training session, one of the first ones that we had, and he had ‘MCT’ on his gloves,” Clewlow recalled during an interview with The Bent Musket. “I said, ‘What’s that?’ He goes, ‘Oh, it’s my initials.’ I said, ‘You should change it to ‘FNT.’’ He kind of looked at me and I said, ‘Future National Team.’ He said, ‘That’s the goal, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you want to get started?’ He was just like, ‘Yes, let’s go!’”
Turner’s story is well-documented. He went undrafted after four years at Fairfield University and ended up with the New England Revolution when then-goalkeeping coach Remi Roy made an unexpected call.
Now he’s the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year who features regularly for the U.S. Men’s National Team. This summer he’ll head to Europe to play for Arsenal, his favorite club growing up.
It’s a story that will almost certainly be a movie one day.
But in 2016, Turner was the fourth-string goalkeeper for the Revs who sometimes found it difficult to get minutes during intrasquad scrimmages.
On Jan. 28, Turner told Orange Slices, “I was doing the goalkeeper portions of sessions with the Revs and whenever the goalkeepers integrated with the rest of the team to do small-sided or 11v11—whatever it was—my goalkeeper coach would pull me off to the side and just run me through more technique drills, more fitness drills, more touches on the ball with my feet, just run me into the ground. It was so physically and mentally challenging that I almost hoped that the Revs would release me.”
Games minutes would come in the form of a loan to the Richmond Kickers.
The Kickers regularly got players from their affiliate D.C. United but found themselves in need of a goalkeeper because D.C. was having injury issues. Then-Kickers head coach Leigh Cowlishaw had a connection with Remi Roy from their days at Virginia Beach. A phone call led to Turner suiting up for Richmond.
“For the most part, [Turner] would be flying to an away game and meeting us there,” Cowlishaw said. “Or if it was a home game, he practiced with us on a Friday and played the game and then he’d be shipped out again. [It was] not ideal for us as a team, but certainly ideal for Matt that he would be able to get really valuable playing time.”
The arrangement allowed Turner to practice with the Revolution during the week before linking up with Richmond. Clewlow remembers that Turner “was basically living out of a suitcase.”
“It would’ve been easy for a kid his age to make excuses like, ‘Oh, I’m so tired and I’m always on a plane,” Clewlow said. “But he treated everything like an opportunity to grow, get better, and own his craft.”
Clewlow said that Turner was a “super humble guy, super passionate about goalkeeping, and an absolute sponge for information.”
One area that Turner knew he needed to improve in was his footwork, which isn’t a surprise because “every goalkeeper in the world could be better with their feet,” according to Clewlow. Turner did rep after rep, working on different types of passes. He took every training session and game seriously because he wanted to improve.
Perhaps most impressive was that Turner demanded the same of those around him. The young goalkeeper, who wasn’t a full-time member of the Kickers, was working with a seasoned backline, but that didn’t deter him from being vocal.
“There was one time when he had a little bark at our right back for not getting back in time and not doing the work that was expected of him,” Clewlow said. “The right back had a go back at him. Matt, even as a young guy to this seasoned guy, he turned and said, ‘We’re all here to do a job. Everyone is doing theirs. You need to do yours. We need you.’”
This type of leadership was effective because “it was commanding, it was demanding, but it encouraged more,” said Clewlow. Turner wanted his teammates to know that they were all in this together and they all had to perform at their best if they wanted to win.
Turner played 27 games for the Kickers in 2016 and 2017. These were meaningful opportunities because the games were competitive and the crowds were passionate.
“He was great for us,” Cowlishaw explained. “Even better, he was on a team who struggled to win matches at that time on a regular basis, so he’s getting even better playing time. He’s not playing for a top team where he doesn’t have much to do. He would have been involved a lot.”
“These environments help, right? It’s not the be-all, end-all but these can move somebody along the ladder a little bit quicker sometimes than players going a different route.”
After two years with the Kickers, Turner got his chance with the Revolution when then-head coach Brad Friedel named him as the starting goalkeeper for the 2018 season opener. Turner grew into the role, eventually becoming one of the league’s best goalkeepers.
Turner will soon depart for England for the next step in his career. His former coaches believe that he will find success because of the person that he is both on and off the field.
“He’s going to be the same Matt who showed up to the Richmond Kickers seven years ago,” Clewlow remarked. “He’s going to go, he’s going to learn, he’s going to develop and grow as a player. He can 100% be a Premier League goalkeeper.”
“Anything is possible for Matt, especially with his personality. He’s a super humble guy, he’s super hard working. The path is wherever he wants to take it.”