A Real Keeper

A Real Keeper

Matt Turner kicking a soccer ball.

In 2020, goalie Matt Turner was named both Revolution Team MVP by fans and Players’ Player of the Year by his teammates.

Fairfield’s Matt Turner ’17 is one of the best goal tenders in Major League Soccer, after a standout 2020 season with the New England Revolution.

Some wondered if a late-blooming kid from a Division I school like Fairfield could even dream of a career as a pro. Well, Turner — and a few others — thought so.

— Javier Decima

Matt Turner was staring at a crossroads after his second year at Fairfield University.

The New Jersey native believed he had the right stuff to be a starter between the posts for the Stags men’s soccer team. But after two seasons, his career seemed at a standstill.

“It wasn’t happening for me the way I had hoped and thought that it should,” said the 26-year-old Turner. “I thought I was good enough to play but I wasn’t. I wanted to leave.”

Rev. Michael J. Doody, S.J., director of restorative mentoring, counseled Turner, and another mentor, adjunct finance professor Rosalind Looby, also offered guidance. “It was time to sign up for classes for my junior year and she knew I wanted to leave. She convinced me that I couldn’t run away from problems and that if I kept working hard I could get the starting job. She was right. I decided to stay.”

The 6’ 3”, 175-pound Turner, who didn’t devote himself to soccer until he was a sophomore in high school, indeed wound up starting in his final two years at Fairfield, which proved pivotal to his future success. He is now one of the best goaltenders in Major League Soccer (MLS), having led the New England Revolution to the finals of the 2020 Eastern Conference playoffs.

Some wondered if a late-blooming kid from a Division I school like Fairfield could even dream of a career as a pro.

Well, Turner — and a few others — thought so. “After I decided to stay, I had a really good two years. I was doing things that I didn’t see other goalies doing on the field in the MAAC. I have to say, [Associate Head Soccer Coach] Javier Decima was someone who held me to a higher standard. He saw something in me athletically and academically, and said I could play for the national team.”

“What I saw in Matt early on at Fairfield that made me think so highly of him,” said Decima, “was his mentality, work ethic, and desire to improve and learn.”

As Fairfield’s starting goalie in 2014 and ’15, Turner turned in a 13-9-12 record to go along with 21 shutouts and a 0.85 goals against average. In his junior campaign, the Park Ridge, N.J., native yielded only 10 goals in 17 appearances, adding 13 shutouts. After his senior season during the fall of 2015, an offer to sign as a free agent was tendered to Turner by the Revolution. Turner balked a bit; to leave one semester short of gradu- ation and miss all the fun stuff that being a final-semester senior entailed?

“I had been offered a job, and it was for much more money than the Revolution was talking about. I had a talk with Dawn DeBiase, director of the Master of Social Work program, and she said it was a no-brainer. A chance like this might not come again. She was the one who helped make it happen that I could graduate online,” which he did in 2017.

Ironically, Turner found himself during his first two years with the Revolution in much the same predicament he was in at Fairfield; he thought he was good enough to play meaningful minutes, but he wound up being loaned to the United Soccer League’s Richmond Kickers. He started 27 matches in net for the Kickers in 2016 and ’17, recording seven shutouts.

“I could have put my head down, but I remembered what I did at Fairfield. I went to Richmond and worked on improving, and on showing that I belonged and that I was good enough to start for the Revolution.”

Then, just like at Fairfield, Turner got his chance. He began the 2018 preseason ranked third on Coach Brad Friedel’s depth chart, but wound up starting the regular season as the top goalie for the Revs. He made 83 saves and earned five shutouts in 27 appearances, and did even better the following year, when he received his first call-up into the 

U.S. Men’s National Team annual January camp, and also signed a multi-year contract extension with the Revolution in 2019.

Pejay Lucky (right) catches up with Mahfouz Soumare ’22 on the steps of The Tully in the Barone Campus Center.

Matt Turner playing for Fairfield in 2015. Turner was signed as a free agent midway through his senior year, but finished his final semester online and received his degree in 2017.

“It’s being at the right time in the right place to get the opportunity needed,” Turner said. “We had a new coach in 2018, and he was reevaluating his players. He looked at me and said he didn’t care about résumés... he gave me a chance.” 

Turner was also brilliant in 2020.

He finished second in MLS Goalkeeper of the Year voting, was named the Revolution Team MVP by fans, and also took home Players’ Player of the Year honors. He posted a record of 8-7-7, started all four of the club’s MLS Cup Playoff matches and tied a Revolution record with three wins in a single postseason campaign.

Of course, 2020 was no ordinary year for athletes and MLS was no different. Strict protocols to safeguard players’ and coaches’ health were put in place, Covid testing was almost constant, and there were few fans in the stands — mostly just in cities with regulations allowing it, such as Philadelphia and Orlando.

Turner said, “Our team did everything we had to do this year to keep playing. We all made sacrifices, some more than others — like guys with families and kids. But we had only a few positive tests. The situation brought us together as a team. Our first game back was July 9 in the MLS bubble in Orlando, Florida.

I played that game in honor of my sister, Michelle, who is a frontline worker in New York City. We won, 1-0, and I made a key save in the 90th minute. That was special.”

Turner called the Revs’ entire playoff run “special” as well. “We won three games and I was fortunate to make big saves late, to preserve wins.”

A postseason late-game save — this one as he debuted in goal for the U.S. Men’s National Team in January 2021 — made Turner’s first international appearance “something I’ll cherish the rest of my life.” Stopping a penalty kick in the 65th minute preserved the U.S. team’s 7-0 shutout against Trinidad and Tobago.

Fairfield’s emphasis on commitment to community service burns strong within Turner. He takes part in team visits to children’s hospitals and is part of a friend’s organization, “The Never Give Up Crew,” which, through a collaboration with the Jessie Rees Foundation, brings childhood cancer patients and their families to Gillette Stadium for an unforgettable match day experience.

And he hasn’t forgotten his alma mater. “During normal years I have gone back to talk to the soccer team, meet the new guys, and take questions from them. This year we did it virtually.”

Turner also owes a debt of gratitude to Michael O’Keefe ’13, a star goalie at Fairfield whom Turner played with for a year and who is now playing professionally in New Zealand. “He instilled a work ethic in me and showed what it was like to be a student-athlete.”

Matt Turner learned valuable lessons at Fairfield, ones that continue to fuel his success on the field and off. 

Other Articles in the Spring 2021 Issue

Alumni Profile: Frank Figliuzzi '84

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Alumni Profile: Jodi Sommers '97

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The Love Bugs

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Stags For Hire

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A Titanic Dream

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Life Changing

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Letter from the President

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