CHARLOTTE — Caleb Wiley hadn’t yet quite processed his 2-goal, 1-assist performance when speaking to media after Atlanta United’s 3-0 win at Charlotte FC on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s still sinking in a little bit. I’m sure it will take a few hours to fully get into me,” the 18-year-old said.
Atlanta fans will hope that it’s a sign of the next step in the development of Wiley, who in January 2022 signed a Homegrown Player contract and ultimately made 26 appearances (18 starts) with the 1st team. He was placed in Gonzalo Pineda’s starting XI once more for Atlanta’s first away match in 2023, presumably as a temporary option for Derrick Etienne as the offseason free agency signing continues to recover from injury.
That said, if Wiley — who joined Miguel Almiron and Yamil Asad as the only players in Atlanta United history with 2 goals and an assist in a single match — can turn this into lasting form, it will give his manager quite a decision.
“It was a great performance by Caleb in many different ways,” Pineda said. “I’m very happy for the kid because he’s one that...we think [is] going to be a great, great player, and these types of performances, I hope, gives him a little bit of extra boost in his career and he starts to believe even more in himself.”
That positive sentiment was felt by Wiley’s teammates as well.
“I think Caleb’s a kid that learns on the fly. He adapts. He listens. He’s a kid that can come into the first team, which is a lot of pressure at times, and understand his role and work hard,” Brooks Lennon said. “He’s always going to give you a 100 percent work ethic. I’m happy for him and just glad to see him score 2 goals, and hopefully, that boosts his confidence as well, and he can have many more this season.”
And Wiley spoke highly of the bond he’s built with Etienne in such a short time.
“He’s someone who is constantly giving me advice in training and on the sideline, so it’s cool to have someone who’s much more experienced and someone who’s telling me what to do and helping me on my way,” he said.
It doesn’t hurt to play with a World Cup winner like Thiago Almada, either, who assisted on Wiley’s opener and had a perfect dummy on a Luiz Araujo pass as Wiley bagged his brace in stoppage time of the 1st half.
“He’s an unbelievable player. He’s probably one of the best players I’ve ever played with,” Wiley said of Almada. “His IQ on the field is so high, and his technical ability is crazy. It’s amazing to play with him...He’s played with some of the best players in the world, and to play with him now is great.”
It’s an effort that Wiley hopes he can build on, aided by his teammates — starting with next Saturday’s home match against the Portland Timbers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“They’ve played in so many high leagues around the world, and to play to them is an honor, and I feel it’s only making me better,” he said. “I think any win we get is a step in the right direction and will motivate us for the next game.”