Go on, Caleb Wiley! Atlanta United defender debut sees "dream come true"

Caleb Wiley ATL

Welcome to MLS, Caleb Wiley.

Just over a month after signing with Atlanta United as a homegrown player, the 17-year-old US youth international scored on his debut Sunday, the start of a promising career for the Five Stripes.

Wiley scored an 89th-minute clincher against Sporting Kansas City, tucking home a breakaway finish to seal a 3-1 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Wiley said postgame. “I don’t score many goals that often, so when I do it’s definitely a speechless moment. When I saw it go into the back of the net, it was a huge moment for me. To do it in front of this huge crowd, in front of friends and family is something special.”

The defender joined Atlanta in mid-January, shortly before fellow academy product George Bello, who plays the same position, was transferred to German Bundesliga side Arminia Bielefeld. For a club that’s starting to produce local players in greater numbers, their left-back future has remarkable continuity from 2021 to the new campaign.

Though Wiley notched just 15 minutes plus stoppage time as a substitute, he drew rave reviews from head coach Gonzalo Pineda amid a message of patience.

“He has all the ingredients needed to have a very good career,” Pineda said in Spanish. “But obviously we’re going to take it step by step, so he can build a good base that allows him to have a long career. It’s very easy to give players a chance to debut, but it’s more difficult to turn them into great players, and that’s my mission with him.

“He’s a player with tremendous potential, but we have to take it easy because when a young player debuts, he can surprise many because he’s not well-known. When young players get more recognition there’s a natural drop. We’ll take it easy, but we love his abilities and we hope this is the first of many games.”

Wiley made his professional debut with Atlanta United 2 in the USL Championship in 2020 at just 15 years old. He also played up on the US U-20 national team last November at the Revelations Cup, a tournament that featured Mexico, Brazil and Colombia.

As Wiley progresses toward his first start with the Five Stripes, he’ll be competing for minutes alongside Andrew Gutman, who’s back in ATLUTD colors after a year-long loan to the New York Red Bulls. Their combined qualities offer Pineda serious depth, with no drop-off after Bello became their first ​​homegrown export to join a top-five league in Europe.

Wiley hopes he’s far from the last ATLUTD prospect to achieve this moment, offering words of encouragement following his debut goal before a crowd of 67,523 fans.

“Just keep on dreaming,” Wiley said. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be who you want to be. Just go out there and have fun, believe in yourself and you can achieve it.”