Kaan Ilgin went to sleep one night last August with a doubt in his mind.
While spending a portion of his summer in his native Turkey, the Mattituck boys soccer player said he decided to try out for Fenerbahce, one of the country's leading clubs based in Istanbul, with hopes of earning a contract. Ilgin said he was the final cut during a tryout for the club's youth team, which he added would've paid him "a pretty good amount of money."
Upon learning he wouldn't be playing for the team he admired since he was a kid after coming so close, Ilgin was devastated. "Yeah, it was hard," the junior forward/midfield said recently.
"I felt like I was going to make it because I was still there after there had been cuts. The team is flat-out awesome with really good players. I was so sad when they told me I was cut. I didn't even want to play soccer because I thought I wasn't good enough."
Yet Ilgin quickly realized he was overreacting. He said he then took the advice of his grandmother, who lives in Turkey, and tried his luck with a different team, Genlerbirligi in Ankara, the capital of Turkey.
Ilgin said he turned out to be good enough for Genlerbirligi's youth team. "When that worked out and I at least made that team," said Ilgin, "I thought, 'Yeah, maybe I shouldn't stop playing soccer.' "
Ilgin did not join the professional team, however, because he said he would have had to live with his parents and they did not want to move back to Turkey.
Back on Long Island, Ilgin's Mattituck teammates are grateful for his return and his realization that he's plenty good enough. Ilgin finished the regular season with 14 goals, which was the most in League VII. Ilgin tied two other players for the most assists on L.I. with 16.
Mario Arreola, a close friend and teammate, put it simply after a win against Center Moriches last month, "Kaan is just a very, very skilled player."
Ilgin attributes his success to his Turkish background and said he hopes to one day play professionally. "Knowing how I played in Turkey just gave me so much confidence on the field now," said Ilgin, who came to the U.S. in the eighth grade, having to learn a new language and adjust to a new culture. "In America, the movement of the ball is really slow compared to play over in Turkey so I have more time to create and make something happen, as opposed to always knowing what to do before I even have the ball."
Mattituck (12-1), which has three consecutive Class B Suffolk titles, lost in a state semifinal last year. The Tuckers will open the playoffs Tuesday at home against Southampton.
"We have enough to make a run at a state championship," Ilgin said. "I really think we can make it again, no doubt."