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Sean Johnson is better than Matt Turner

The NYCFC goalkeeper is having a career year, outperforming other MLS internationals

You’re looking at the best goalkeeper in MLS.
Photograph by Katie Cahalin, courtesy NYCFC.com

Sean Johnson is the best goalkeeper in MLS this season, but Matt Turner will get the start later today when the United States Men’s National Team plays Morocco in a friendly at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati. Them’s the breaks.

Rather, that’s how it works with goalkeepers, who tend to lose their starting position only through injury or by committing a series of errors so egregious they make the highlight reels. The goalkeeper has the closest thing to tenure you’ll find in soccer.

New England Revolution’s Turner has that tenure. He first ascended to the starting role in January 2021, when he was tapped by USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter after Brad Guzan aged out of the position, and the pandemic suspended all matches for more than one year. There was a gap to be filled, and Turner was up to the task: The USMNT not only qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup with Turner in goal, they won the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the CONCACAF Nations League Finals. His performances have been impressive. Since Turner took over the starting role, the USMNT have lost only twice with him between the sticks — and twice when he wasn't in goal (once with Manchester City’s Zak Steffen, and once with Nottingham Forest’s Ethan Horvath). You can understand why Berhalter trusts him.

But that was last year, and Turner hasn’t been performing at that level since returning from an injury that almost certainly was wasn't was caused by playing in subzero conditions for the national team in February. He’s still a good enough shot-stopper, and he could return to form after he joins Arsenal later this month, but right now Turner is not among the elite in MLS goalkeeping.

In the five games Turner started in goal this season, New England have won two and drawn three. That’s good but it’s not great, and neither win was convincing: One was at home against an Inter Miami reduced to ten players, and one was on the road against an FC Cincinnati that scored twice to even it up before Tommy McNamara put the Revs ahead in the 89th minute. Over that run, Turner allowed seven goals in five games for a middle-of-the-MLS-pack average of 1.4 goals per game. Even more concerning, he made only seven saves for a shockingly poor 53% shots on target this year. He’s not looking that sharp.

By contrast, NYCFC’s Johnson recorded his sixth consecutive clean sheet last Saturday for a league-best 0.0 goals per game (obvi). In their last five matches, New York City have won four and drawn one, including two tough road wins. Johnson made nine saves in those games and saved 100% of the shots on target.

But why compare apples to apples? Let’s take their seasons as a whole, and include NYCFC’s abysmal run of games at the start of the year (one win, one draw, three losses), when the New York City defense weren’t at their best. Tally up the entire year, and Johnson still outperforms Turner in every meaningful metric.

Sean Johnson vs Matt Turner, 2022 MLS Season

Name Games Minutes Goals Allowed Allowed/Game Saves Save % Clean Sheets Pass %
Name Games Minutes Goals Allowed Allowed/Game Saves Save % Clean Sheets Pass %
Sean Johnson 13 1170 10 0.77 31 75.6% 8 80.3%
Matt Turner 5 450 7 1.40 8 53.3% 1 79.9%

Johnson’s performances this year not only put him above Turner, they make him arguably the best goalkeeper in MLS. His only rival is Philadelphia Union’s Andre Blake, who might have an incrementally higher save percentage, but who has trouble with the ball at his feet. Johnson is the complete package.

When you look at the high-performing MLS goalkeepers who are now training with their national teams – Blake (Jamaica), Maxime Crépeau (Canada), Pedro Gallese (Peru), Johnson, Turner – you see who is elite, and who has yet to find his form.

One of these is not like the others.

MLS Goalkeepers Called Up for International Duty

Name Games Minutes Goals Allowed Allowed/Game Saves Save % Clean Sheets Pass %
Name Games Minutes Goals Allowed Allowed/Game Saves Save % Clean Sheets Pass %
Andre Blake 14 1260 10 0.71 42 80.8% 6 53.9%
Maxime Crépeau 13 1170 14 1.08 22 61.1% 4 76.4%
Pedro Gallese 13 1170 19 1.46 32 62.8% 6 75.8%
Sean Johnson 13 1170 10 0.77 31 75.6% 8 80.3%
Matt Turner 5 450 7 1.40 8 53.3% 1 79.9%

New England fans will tell you that the numbers are meaningless and this analysis is unfair, that Turner is the greatest keeper since Florence’s Giovanni de’ Bardi minded the goal in 1580: He combines the best traits of Peter Čech, Gianluigi Buffon, Patrick Roy, Hakeem Olajuwon, Fort Knox, and a fully-operational MIM-104 Patriot system.

While it's true that Turner is an exceptional goalkeeper, and he might accomplish great things at Arsenal, he simply doesn’t look that good right now.

Over the weekend, New England played a tough Philadelphia Union at home to a 1-1 draw. Philadelphia managed just two shots on goal, and one went in. Revs fans will tell you the goal isn't Turner’s fault, that the botched New England clearance set up Philadelphia to score. Maybe. Turner doesn't help himself by halfway charging out of the goal and getting caught out of position.

Around that same time, Johnson made a clutch double-save to preserve NYCFC’s lead in the closing seconds of a hard-fought away game against Minnesota United. There's no need to explain away his mistakes because none were made. Instead, it was his saves that made the rounds.

No matter: Berhalter already announced that Turner will get the start tonight, and we wish him the best.

Johnson was called up just last week to replace Steffen (who withdrew for family reasons), which makes it easy to deduce that the NYCFC goalkeeper is fourth on the USMNT depth chart behind Turner, Steffen, and Hovarth. The last part is maybe the most perplexing. While Hovarth is a part of a Nottingham Forest squad that earned promotion to the English Premier League, he lost his starting position and is now the club’s number-two goalkeeper behind Brice Samba. Hovarth last started a game on March 20, more than two months ago.

Still, Berhalter intimated that Johnson will play in at least one of the USMNT’s four games this month. He might not feature against Morocco today, but he could be in the net for the Uruguay friendly this Sunday, or in the CONCACAF Nations League matches against Granda or El Salvador that follow.

When Johnson takes the field it won't be because of how he played last year, or what he might accomplish in the fall. He’ll earn his start because of his current form, and because he’s the best goalkeeper in MLS right now.