Q&A with Atlanta United’s Caleb Wiley

Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley (26) battles for possession against Columbus Crew defender Mohamed Farsi (23) during the second half against Columbus Crew in Game 2 of a first-round MLS playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. (Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley (26) battles for possession against Columbus Crew defender Mohamed Farsi (23) during the second half against Columbus Crew in Game 2 of a first-round MLS playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. (Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Atlanta United fullback Caleb Wiley participated in MLS media days Tuesday.

Wiley had career highs in appearances (33), goals (4) and assists (4) last season. He played well enough that made his first two appearances with the U.S. men’s national team.

Here are the questions and his answers asked by several reporters. Some have been edited for clarity and brevity:

Q: Caleb, obviously, you’ve been involved with the U.S. Men’s National Team and the U.S. Olympic team, during their path to qualifying for this summer’s Olympics. Can you speak a little bit to just your excitement in your involvement with the national team program? And hopefully getting to represent the United States at this year’s Olympics?

A: Yeah, definitely. I mean, every time I get called up to the 20s, 23s, senior team, it’s always an honor. It’s always some time that I’m very excited about because I know that I’m going to not only represent my country, but I’m also you know, playing with some of the guys that are the best in the league, right? Whether it’s around my age or not, it’s such a cool experience. And for the Olympics, it’s a goal of mine that I make the team. It’s something that I’m striving for, something I’m looking forward to achieving.

Q: Last season, we saw you start to step into that starting left back role. This is going to be the first season where you’re the guy and you’re the starting left back from the in the very beginning. How do you feel about that? And how do you feel that you’ve matured as a player between now and a year ago?

A: I’m super excited for this, yeah, to kind of step into that position. I feel like the past two years I’ve definitely, I’ve got a lot of experience in the league so far. So I feel very confident about this year.

I think I’ve continued to grow into my body. As a player, as a person, I feel like last year was a pretty big year for me. I was able to learn so much. I got tons of experience with Atlanta United and the national team. So it’s only been like a confidence booster to not only apply that into this season and look to do everything that I did last year, but better.

Q: Caleb, you open the season against the defending champions, the Columbus Crew. Can you tell us what reasons the team and the fans had to believe that this season you’ll make the leap onto that level that Columbus found last year that left them with the MLS Cup championship?

A: Yeah. I think, for me, it’s the guys that we have in this team. Everyone has this hunger to win. I mean, for me, whatever competition we play I want to win. And I think that goes for everyone, including the staff. So we have this winning mentality. Off the field, our culture is very strong. Everyone’s together, everyone gets on well with each other. And we have each other’s back. I think that’s the most important thing within a team, when we go out, if we lose a game, it’s all right. We bounce back, we have each other’s back. We don’t point fingers and stuff. We have each other’s backs. We pick each other up. And that’s what I really like about this team: Everyone’s willing to push each other and make each other better. Everyone’s willing to put the put in that extra 10%. And we get to do that, and our fans are some of the best fans in the league. So, I’m very excited.

Q: The team has signed a lot of players from leagues in Europe, a lot of veterans from leagues in Europe. Can you just talk about how they’ve raised the bar? Whether it’s just more professionalism, more awareness on the training pitch, whatever it may be?

A: Yeah, I mean, you just said it right there. They’re also bringing experience. They’re coming from Europe, which is ... the game is very different over there. So they come here, and they’ve kind of got to adapt to how we play, how we play our game. So they’re bringing their individual talent. And when they’re bringing that, it’s only making everyone around them play better. So the new signings that we’ve had, that we made in the offseason, have done amazing so far. They seem to be fitting in perfectly. And I’m looking forward to seeing how they do this season.

Q: Looking back at last year, one of the main criticisms about this team was their mentality in big moments, the team dropped points from winning positions and that affected your final standing in the Eastern Conference? How will this team be different?

A: Yeah. It’s tough. I think there was plenty of times last year where we kind of, not even in the last few minutes of the game, kind of just there was moments during the game where we kind of lost focus, lost concentration, and we were punished for it. And so I think this season is really dialing in and really all being on the same page, really being focused, and every action for the whole 90 minutes. And that’s a challenge. But I think everyone on this team, including the staff, are up for this challenge. It doesn’t matter what team we face, we have to go into the game with a winning mentality, and we’re going to do everything that we can to win. Staying focused, staying locked in and being ready to go.

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 at Columbus, 2 p.m.

March 9 vs. New England, 7:30 p.m.

March 17 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

March 23 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

March 31 vs. Chicago, 3:30 p.m., FOX

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.

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.