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How high can Caleb Wiley climb in 2022?

A closer look at Atlanta United’s ascendant homegrown left-back

Caleb Wiley

Position: Left-back

2021 USL-Championship Matches: 22 matches, 22 starts for 1,933 minutes

What went right in 2021

Caleb Wiley took the world by storm in 2021. After a strong debut with Atlanta United 2 in 2020, Wiley became one of the youngest regular starters in the USL - Championship in addition to becoming one of the American second division’s best left-backs.

Wiley impressed fans, coaches, and fellow players alike with his advanced defensive abilities in 2020 and continued to showcase that technical and tactical growth as he continued to physically grow into a much more imposing defender in 2021. He also enhanced the offensive side of his game, gaining greater confidence in possession and the attacking side of the game. His crossing and one-on-one ability as the attacker exponentially improved and saw him regularly carving up opposing fullbacks like a forward.

Meanwhile, Wiley was concurrently competing in a second season with Atlanta United’s U-19s in the UPSL where he and our other young stars competed and outplayed most of the older U-23 teams of their mostly Georgia-based competition. In their first season in the UPSL, Wiley and his teammates nearly earned Atlanta United another trophy, losing 1-0 in the championship match against Patrick Okonkwo and Andrew Carleton’s Kalonji Pro Profile side.

Wiley’s growing reel of highlights soon attracted the interest of his national team program, earning him a U-20 call-up for the United States just before his 17th birthday in December and a subsequent call-up to the team’s January camp as the US prepares to qualify for the next U-20 World Cup.

And though this technically did not happen in 2021, Caleb Wiley’s Homegrown Player contract certainly came as a result of his highly impressive 2021 season.

What to improve in 2022

Caleb Wiley is still young and though highly advanced for his age, he still gets exposed in the same chess matches that happen up and down the flanks by opposing wings and fullbacks. Crafty and athletic veterans like Birmingham Legion’s Jonathan Dean were able to give Wiley some problems last year, catching him upfield or luring him out of the run of play to open up space for forwards and attacking midfielders to run.

Wiley is fast and athletic enough to overcome some of his mental and positional gaffs but minimizing those should help him more efficiently use his energy while on the field. Like for most young players, the mental side of the game comes with increasing repetitions at each level and with each increase in playing speed. Luckily for Wiley, he is quick to adapt and seems to bounce back from adversity.

2022 Season Outlook

2022 could be another big year for Caleb Wiley. His academy predecessor George Bello seems to be on his way to Germany as the first Homegrown Player sold overseas and Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda has openly discussed his willingness to play his youngsters regardless of their age.

Standing in Wiley’s way is Andrew Gutman, an experienced MLS player returning from loan with the New York Red Bulls. Gutman has looked impressive so far in training and in preseason friendlies with Atlanta United and seems to already be building good chemistry with Luis Araujo and Tyler Wolff. This likely means that Wiley will not be rushed into the starting role in his first professional season and will likely return to the 2s as their de facto starter. There we could expect somewhere between 25-30 starts with the potential for a US Open Cup start for the MLS side. Gutman, Mikey Ambrose, and Ronald Hernandez will likely be the club’s MLS rotation of left-backs barring injury or other setbacks.

The real test will come next preseason in 2023 when we believe Caleb Wiley will be given every opportunity to challenge Andrew Gutman to be the team’s new young starter at left-back.