Caleb Wiley learning from unexpected playing time with Atlanta United

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Caleb Wiley sounds a lot like former Atlanta United fullback George Bello when discussing how he’s trying to take care of himself during an MLS season in which he’s playing much more than expected.

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Wiley made his 15th start, and 19th appearance, Sunday in a 2-2 draw at Columbus. That’s probably twice as many appearances as anyone predicted because Wiley didn’t become a professional until he signed a Homegrown contract in January. He was expected to be Andrew Gutman’s backup.

His first three appearances were off the bench. He moved into the starting lineup April 16 vs. Cincinnati. He’s been hard to move out of the lineup since then, starting 15 of the next 16 games. Some of that playing time was because of an injury to Gutman. Some has been because of Wiley’s performances. Manager Gonzalo Pineda said he likes Wiley’s skill set.

With this unexpected playing time, Wiley said he is learning how to properly take care of his 17-year-old body. Oh, yeah, Wiley won’t turn 18 until December. Bello, who was sold to Arminia Bielefeld in Germany during the January transfer window, about two weeks after Wiley signed his Homegrown deal, said similar things before the 2020 season after overcoming numerous injuries that sidelined him in 2018 and ‘19.

“I’ve been having the best time,” Wiley said. “Feel like I’m improving learning every single day.”

Off the field, Wiley said he has a great support group that helps him make sure he’s undergoing proper treatments and recovery protocols. He said he’s always eaten well, so that’s not an area of concern.

On the field, playing as a fullback, wingback or winger with one goal, two assists and 16 key passes, Wiley’s offense arguably has been better than his defense.

He said that’s an area that he knows he needs to improve. Despite his youthfulness, Wiley is strong with broad shoulders. He said he needs to use his strength more to his advantage when defending.

“Just because I’m 17 doesn’t mean I can’t man up and go against older guys and be stronger,” he said.

Wiley said he sees himself as a fullback with the goal of playing in Europe, just like Bello.

“Whether that’s Germany, England, Spain, out in Europe somewhere, that’s the goal,” he said.

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

July 24 L.A. Galaxy 2, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Atlanta United 0, Chicago 0

Aug. 6 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 1

Aug. 13 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 2

Aug. 17 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, Columbus 2

Aug. 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

Aug. 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas