There is a great story about US goalkeeper Matt Turner that explains his natural ability as a shot stopper.
Amazingly, the story involves three people who have strong ties to Alabama. If you thought football-mad Alabama had nothing to do with the World Cup being held in Qatar, then you’d be wrong. Here it is, and it’s not obscure.
The USA plays England on Friday at 1pm CT in the World Cup. People think the US doesn’t stand a chance in the game, but it doesn’t. USA is good enough to win.
For starters, England have never beaten the USA in a World Cup. The USA upset England 1-0 in 1950 and then tied England 1-1 in the 2010 Cup. Additionally, this USA team is by far the most talented group of men the Americans have ever put together at a World Cup. My name for the team is Young Americans – to the tune of David Bowie – as the team is the second youngest (25.2 years) in the field after Ghana (24.7).
The third reason not to count the USA against England is Turner, the USA goalkeeper. He is a madman who can stop shooting. The USA has a strong goaltending history at the World Cup, and Turner continues that tradition. The world may not fully respect US soccer, but everyone agrees that the USA produces good goalkeepers.
This is because in the US we grow up playing many different ball sports that require hand-eye coordination.
Turner didn’t start playing football until he was a teenager, but the natural ability was there from the start. He then played college soccer in Fairfield, Connecticut, but went undrafted in Major League Soccer. At the time, Turner was signed as the fourth goaltender for the New England Revolution.
The Revolution’s head coach was Jay Heaps, who is the president of Birmingham Legion FC. Legion head coach Tommy Soehn was Heaps’ assistant at the time. Pretty cool, right? Well, it gets better.
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The goaltending coach for the Revolution was Remi Roy, and it was Roy who got credit for finding Turner, helping convince Heaps and the front office to sign him, and then putting in the work that allowed Turner to develop into a better player. How small is this World Cup celebrating world? Roy played college soccer for the University of Mobile and then coached the University of Mobile as an assistant for 10 years before moving to MLS.
He still owns a home in Mobile to this day and recently returned to Mobile for an alumni event at his alma mater.
I spoke to Roy this week and he tried to deflect all the credit for helping Turner on his way to starting as a goalkeeper for the Revolution, signing with Arsenal and then winning the iconic job of starting USA goalkeeper at the World Cup. Roy is now the director of scouting and player personnel for New England, so he must have a pretty good knack for mining talent.
“I found him,” Roy said after about 10 minutes of narration. “My friend was his agent at the time. He didn’t know anything about goaltending, so he asked me to watch his film.’
Roy brought Turner to camp and everyone was impressed. But Turner still had a long way to go. He was able to stop shots early on, but his footwork and positioning needed fine-tuning.
After signing with New England, Turner was loaned to the USL’s Richmond Kickers for game experience. He practiced with New England during the week and then went to Richmond and played with the Kickers on the weekends. Turner is a grinder, and like many professional athletes with a diamond background, he has always had the ability to take information from coaches and then apply it to his game.
Even now, Roy says he sees leaps forward in skill from Turner after leaving the Revolution for Arsenal.
“I’m just more proud of him because of how far he’s come,” Roy said. “I told a lot of journalists in England that Matt deserves all the credit. A lot of people helped him and he had great advice, but he put in the work. He is the one who went from playing in Richmond to playing in MLS.
Once Turner broke through in Major League Soccer, Roy says he knew it wouldn’t be long before a European club noticed him.
“He’s always had a raw talent,” Roy said. “He improved drastically just by having so much natural talent.
Turner is a backup to Arsenal starter Aaron Ramsdale for his club. Ramsdale is England’s reinforcement for this World Cup. USA and England have players who know each other well. The USA roster has nine players who play for clubs in the Premiership or the second division of the EFL Championship. To give you an idea of the talent level of Team USA, it features 15 players from first division teams in leagues across Europe. Closer to home, defenders Walker Zimmerman and Shaq Moore play for Nashville SC in the MLS. Both are from Georgia.
Even closer to home, Birmingham’s Chris Richards, who plays defense for Crystal Palace in the Premiership, was left out of the final U.S. World Cup roster due to injury.
The USA is off to a pretty good start at the World Cup after missing out entirely in 2018. Fighting Ted Lassos drew Wales 1-1 in their first game on Monday. I watched the drama with about 750 other fans at the Good People Brewing Company in Birmingham. It was packed to the brim and there were hundreds of fans outside as well.
When Tim Weah put the USA up 1-0, the place erupted. Fans will be in breweries and bars across the country for Friday’s game.
Due to the draw with Wales, the USA needs a positive result against England. In other words, anything but a loss. For that to happen, Turner, the American goalkeeper, will have to play well. He certainly has it in him.
“He never underperformed,” Roy said of Turner. “He was always going to perform higher. He’s a game keeper. He is not a practice goalkeeper. The bigger the challenge, the better, and he’ll keep doing it.”
Roy’s connection to Alabama extends beyond his ties to Mobile and his time with Heaps and Soehn in New England. In a stroke of fate, it was Roy who first suggested to former Birmingham Legion FC manager Morgan Copes that he call Heaps to help build the Legion from scratch. Copes, a native of Birmingham, played for Roy at the University of Mobile.
On Friday, Copes, Heaps and hundreds of Birmingham Legion FC fans will be at Good People Brewing to cheer on the Stars & Stripes.
“Matt Turner played our league three years ago,” Heaps said. “Our league provides these opportunities for players everywhere.”
The legendary story of Turner’s ability as a shot stopper is this. Heaps and Roy remember it well. Early in Turner’s time in New England, he was a goaltender whose job it was to warm up forwards, forwards and attacking midfielders before games by trying to save their shots. Roy and Heaps watched finishing practices, and no one on New England’s first team could score on the fourth player, who was signed as an undrafted free agent. He blocked everything and made one impossible save after another.
After a while, the forwards asked Roy to change the goalkeeper from the warm-up game.
“They couldn’t score on him to the point where the players said you have to get him out of the gate because he’s killing our confidence,” Roy said.
Matt Turner has gone from attacking goalkeeper to the World Cup. Let’s hope England are waiting for his mojo to dash the hopes of the forwards.
“He’s going to be busy on Friday,” Roy said.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for Alabama Media Group and author “We Want Bama: A Season of Hope and the Making of Nick Saban’s ‘Ultimate Team'”. You can find him on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.