Atlanta United

Caleb Wiley 'speechless' after 'dream come true' debut Atlanta United goal

Chris Smith
Wiley lifted the roof off of MBS on Sunday with a late clincher.
Wiley lifted the roof off of MBS on Sunday with a late clincher. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Caleb Wiley says he was left 'speechless' after his 'dream come true' goalscoring moment in Atlanta United's 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City on Sunday.

At just 17, Wiley signed his first homegrown contract with the Five Stripes just over a month ago and was introduced for his MLS debut in the 75th minute on Saturday to help his side see out the game.

SKC pulled a goal back through Daniel Salloi in the 85th minute, but teenage debutant Wiley had the last laugh, racing through on goal to meet a Marcelino Moreno pass before coolly slotting the ball past Tim Melia to seal three points.

"It’s definitely a dream come true," Wiley told reporters post-match. "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.”

Given he's primarily a left-back and was only put on the wing due to Atlanta United suffering a long list of early injuries and visa issues, don't expect Wiley to be charging behind opposing defenses as a matter of routine.

But he certainly demonstrated he already has the skill and composure to become a huge success in MLS. Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda talked up Wiley's potential after Sunday's season opener, despite calling for patience as he aids his development.

“He has all the ingredients needed to have a very good career,” Pineda said. “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.”

The timing and wider context of Wiley's goal were also extremely important. After all, this is an Atlanta United side that conceded late equalizers and losing goals far too often in 2021, ultimately costing them the chance to finish higher in the Eastern Conference and host an MLS Cup Playoff match.

Understandably, supporters were shifting nervously in their seats when Salloi halved SKC's deficit. But Wiley revealed Pineda has been working to strengthen his team's resilience when it comes to holding onto leads - making the teenager's late clincher all the more satisfying.

“Yeah, coach Pineda has talked about it a little bit," Wiley said of avoiding late collapses. "I think it just comes down to us and our mentality. Fighting until the final whistle. No matter how hard it gets, just keep on going. I know they scored one late, but I’m happy that we were able to get one back.”

After sealing three points on opening day, Atlanta United travel to the Colorado Rapids on Saturday.