Caleb Wiley, Jay Fortune using national-team experience to help Atlanta United

Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley (26) battles for possession during the first half against the Chicago Fire at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, March 31, 2024.
 Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley (26) battles for possession during the first half against the Chicago Fire at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, March 31, 2024. Miguel Martinez /

Two of Atlanta United’s younger players are bringing lessons learned from their recent experiences with their national teams to the Five Stripes’ training pitch and matches.

Fullback Caleb Wiley, 19, recently played for the U.S. Under 23 team in two friendly matches it used as preparations for the Summer Olympics. Wiley returned and helped Atlanta United in its 3-0 defeat of Chicago on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“It was an awesome experience, good competition. That group of guys that I was there with are amazing guys, and they have lots of quality,” Wiley said. “And so when I’m around that type of quality, I feel like it only makes me better. So, I’m able to come back here with lots of confidence.”

Midfielder Jay Fortune, 21, recently played for Trinidad and Tobago in its Copa America qualifying loss to Canada. Fortune came off the bench against Chicago to successfully help Atlanta United try to protect a 1-0 lead.

“It helps a great amount,” Fortune said. “When you’re away in the national level you’re playing against guys ... some that are playing in Champions League every week. Some are playing Europa League. So it requires a different level of speed and whatnot. And when you come back and play with the guys here and play in this league, you can take what you learned from there and try and apply it, whether it’s playing faster or having to play smarter.”

Atlanta United will play at NYCFC on Saturday at Citi Field.

Wiley said he is working with the U.S. Under 23s and with Atlanta United on improving his defensive positioning. Like right fullback Brooks Lennon, Wiley said he spends extra time with Atlanta United’s assistant coaches studying film of himself and other fullbacks.

One source of Wiley’s growth is that he already has reached 50 starts with the club, and he said he wants to reach 100. He said the game has started to slow some. He also is learning how to be a more patient defender, realizing the best times to press an opponent who has the ball.

“Since preseason, I feel like I’ve I’ve grown defensively, being more comfortable,” he said. “Every game that goes by, I continue to learn.”

Fortune has developed to the point that he is one of the first players that Pineda brings in off the bench. Fortune said it’s important that he recognizes the speed of the match and matches that pace as soon as he enters. It can come as quickly as connecting his first pass.

Fortune described his role as trying to bring energy on defense, to get the ball to his skilled teammates, to break lines with passes, and to produce either a goal or an assist when he has the ball in the opponent’s defensive third of the field. Fortune said improving those impactful stats are part of his goals this season. He has yet to post a goal or an assist in 67 minutes this season, He has one assist in 18 appearances in his career.

“I think that will come with time,” he said.

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

March 9 Atlanta United 4, New England 1

March 17 Atlanta United 2, Orlando 0

March 23 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 0

March 31 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 0

April 6 at NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

April 14 vs. Philadelphia, 2:30 p.m., FOX

April 20 vs. Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

April 27 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.

May 4 vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m.

May 11 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

May 15 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

May 18 at Nashville, 1:30 p.m.

May 25 vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m.

May 29 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FOX

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

July 26 vs. D.C. United in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 4 vs. Santos Laguna in Leagues Cup, 4 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.