Is Arsenal transfer the best move for Turner in USMNT goalkeeper battle?

Matt Turner USMNTGetty Images

Shortly after the U.S. men's national team's win over El Salvador on Thursday, Gregg Berhalter confirmed American soccer's worst-kept secret.

Matt Turner, fresh off keeping another clean sheet, is bound for Arsenal, the Premier League, and that proverbial next step.

"It's an amazing story," Berhalter said. "His work ethic, his belief in himself and his never-give-up attitude, it's a great story and Matt is a great guy, a great team-mate. We're lucky to have him.

"Tonight was an example where he did everything he had to do. He was calm in all situations, wasn't tested much, but he was there when we needed him and he looked like a guy that's going to Arsenal for sure."

Berhalter's right: by any logic, Turner never should have made it this far.

Just six short years ago, he wasn't deemed good enough to be selected as one of the 75 picks in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft.

A product of Fairfield University, Turner's professional career only began as the result of a successful trial, one which saw him eke his way onto an MLS roster.

But now, Turner finds himself achieving the unthinkable. He's in the running to be the U.S. men's national team's top goalkeeper at this year's World Cup.

And, after emerging as the best goalkeeper in MLS, he's set to sign with Arsenal.

But there is one big question: is this the right move at the right time for a player that is still pushing to be the USMNT's World Cup starter?

As Turner looks ahead towards his move to London this summer, he does so with one eye also fixed on the World Cup this winter.

Turner, as things stand, finds himself in the midst of a goalkeeper battle with another goalkeeper that calls the Premier League his home.

Although USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter has never said it, Zack Steffen has largely been the USMNT's No. 1 goalkeeper when healthy.

He's had that role for some time, and it wasn't until Turner shined this past summer at the Gold Cup that there was any doubt over Steffen's status as first-choice.

Talent-wise, Steffen has long been at a top, top level, which is one of the reasons that Manchester City signed him in the first place. He's an athletic player, comfortable with his feet and has fantastic reflexes and instincts.
At City, he's learned under Ederson, one of the best goalkeepers in the world today, while getting occasional time in cup games.

There are worse places to be than playing under Pep Guardiola, a manager that must have a goalkeeper capable of effectively playing as a sweeper.

Zack Steffen USMNT GFX
Getty/GOAL

Berhalter, by and large, is the same. He likes goalkeepers that can play out of the back and, having managed Steffen with the Columbus Crew, trusts him to do just that.

Steffen's talent and training environment have always been enough to overlook his relative lack of gametime because he's earned that trust.

But now, Turner finds himself pushing Steffen for that spot.

Over the last two years, Turner has emerged as the best goalkeeper in MLS, an elite shotstopper that rarely puts a foot wrong.

While he's not as good with the ball at his feet as Steffen, he is arguably the better pure goalkeeper, with his record of four goals in 14 USMNT caps showing just how good he is.

The argument that Turner has had over Steffen is form, with the soon-to-be former New England Revolution goalkeeper a constant for one of the best teams in the league.

He helped lead the Revs to the Supporters' Shield last season and has been voted team MVP as well as an MLS All-Star.

While Steffen has waited behind Ederson, Turner has taken his chance with the Revs, playing week in and week out and improving every step of the way.

There's no experience like first-team experience, and those experiences have allowed Turner to rise from undrafted to USMNT regular.

The question is if those experiences continue at Arsenal, as Turner could very well be sacrificing his edge in this competition to complete this dream move.

As things stand, Arsenal have two regular first-team goalkeepers in Aaron Ramsdale and Bernd Leno, the latter of whom will almost certainly move on with Turner now coming in.

However, at best, Turner will now find himself in another competition with Ramsdale, one which will be tough to win for a variety of reasons.

The first is Ramsdale's form.

The £24 million ($32.6m) summer signing from Sheffield United has been a revelation since making the move to Arsenal, locking down their No. 1 spot ahead of Leno. Since assuming that role, Ramsdale has made several spectacular saves, earning a spot with England in the process.

Unseating Ramsdale will be difficult for Turner, who is also four years older than his future teammate. And, with the World Cup looming, time will be against him when it comes to earning Mikel Arteta's trust.

Without that starting role, Turner would need to find another way to distance himself from Steffen.

That could be with his performances in the rest of World Cup qualifying, with Steffen missing games once again this window due to injury.

Article continues below

And that's the risk Turner is taking, although it is obviously a calculated one. It's also a risk that comes with a massive pay raise and the fulfillment of a boyhood dream, which will always be a deciding factor when a club like Arsenal comes knocking.

What the Gunners give Turner most of all is a chance. It gives him a chance to play at the highest level for an internationally-recognized club. It gives him a chance to prove to Berhalter and the rest of American soccer that he can be the No. 1 in Qatar this winter.

And it gives him a chance to add another improbable chapter to a Cinderella story that somehow keeps becoming more unlikely by the day.