Standout 2021 Griffins rookie Yildiz turns pro with Turkish club Hatayspor

Ali Yildiz plays the ball under pressure from two Alberta defenders during the 2021 Canada West season. He has signed with Turkish club Süper Lig club Hatayspor. (Robert Antoniuk photo).
Ali Yildiz plays the ball under pressure from two Alberta defenders during the 2021 Canada West season. He has signed with Turkish club Süper Lig club Hatayspor. (Robert Antoniuk photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – As the sun set last month on 'captain's practices' – a gathering of veteran Griffins ahead of the team's official training camp – Ali Yildiz came over to say goodbye to head coach Adam Loga and his staff.

Loga had a feeling in the moment that it was more than just a casual 'see you next week' type of acknowledgement. 

His inclinations were correct: Loga's star rookie forward from 2021 turned pro, signing a contract with Turkish Süper Lig club Hatayspor to play for the squad's U19 and reserve teams – news announced late Thursday on the Griffins soccer Instagram account.

"It's funny, in his last captain's practice with us, he comes over and kind of says goodbye," said Loga. "I looked at our other staff member and said 'he's not coming back.' 

"Just knowing he could still sign a U19 deal, how much he's improved over the last year and just the success he had in the second half of the season in 2021 as a 17-year-old in a men's league, being an impact player to push us into playoffs, I was like 'he's not coming back.' "

That and the fact Yildish is a Turkish citizen, meaning he doesn't count as an import, made the connection to the Antakya, Hatay Province-based team a natural one.

"I came to Turkey and I contacted them," said Yildiz of how it all came about. "I'm from Turkey, so I guess you could say it was an easier way (to get signed) because I'm a Turkish citizen."

He will be in the mix for promotion to the top team, but for now is among the reserves.

"It's great for him," said Loga. "Obviously, being of Turkish descent, he goes in there as a non-local. It's a great opportunity for him. I don't think he could have asked for a better situation.

"Turkey's an incredible league," he added. "Some big names have gone through. Currently, he's with Sam Adegkube, who's on our national team, so he'll add some more Canadian content there."

Ali Yildiz, left, celebrates scoring against Lethbridge on Oct. 16 at Clarke Stadium with teammates Rakan Yassin and Stefan Gajic. He had three points in his final four games to help push MacEwan into the playoffs (Tia Schram photo).

Yildiz's rise over the course of his rookie Canada West season in 2021 can only be described as meteoric. 

After getting his feet wet with some minutes in the first half of the season, Yildiz became one of the biggest reasons the Griffins rallied to make the playoffs for the first time. He set up both of the game-winning goals in a pair of season-ending 1-0 victories over Calgary that punched MacEwan's ticket to the post-season.

"As the league progressed, I really found my rhythm, found out what's working, what's not working and used that," said Yildiz. "Near the end of the season, playoffs were on the line, so I had to perform to help the team get there. 

"My confidence helped me a lot and I guess my confidence is what helped me improve over the year."

That includes in the off-season, where Loga notes he's taken another step in his development to allow him to join the professional ranks.

Yildiz's story is remarkably similar to Michael Enes, who also had a terrific rookie season with the Griffins (in 2019) before turning pro with Portuguese side Clube Desportivo de Sobrado last summer. The pair are among a rising handful of players turning pro after playing for the Griffins – a program that's gaining a reputation as a top-flight springboard.

"The program has grown, obviously," said Loga. "I can't commend the lads enough – they've put in the time to do the dirty work and they're starting to get rewarded. A guy like Ali who can come in for a year and then go on to a level and standard like that speaks volumes to the guys and the training atmosphere they put forward and the culture they've created with us and the staff. They've bought into that trust with us as a staff. 

"It's showing that it's a positive place to be. It sparks some more belief in some of these younger lads and recruits who want to go on to the next level when they see Ali do it."

Yildiz summed up the interview with some appreciation for the program that's helped him get to the next level. 

"I appreciate MacEwan helping me get to where I'm at," he said. "Thanks to everyone with the Griffins."