Caleb Wiley’s Special Moment In Debut ‘A Way of Giving Back’ To Atlanta 


After defender Caleb Wiley scored the third goal to ice Atlanta’s win over Sporting Kansas City on Sunday, he peeled off and ran toward the corner flag to celebrate. He instantly put his hands together over his head. Together, his hands formed the shape of a heart. He showed the heart to the roaring stands, then blew a kiss to the crowd and raised his arms in complete elation toward the closed roof at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.  

It was a special moment for Wiley, who had just scored his first career MLS goal in his first career MLS appearance. And in that special moment, he celebrated with a token of love.  

“It just shows how much love I have for this city and this club,” Wiley said. “They’ve given me so much, so it’s just a way of giving back. It was a huge, special moment for me to do it in front of these amazing fans, friends, family. So it was just special.” 

Atlanta means a lot to Wiley, and his roots to the city run deep. The 17-year-old was born here (his birth year is 2004, if you want to see a birth date that might make you feel old). His father, Chris, has been a business owner in Atlanta since 1997. He owns Oz Pizza, a pizza restaurant with three locations around the city.  

Much like the relationship he’s been fostering with his son, Chris has been building a connection between soccer and the community of Atlanta. The East Point location of Oz Pizza has a Soccer in the Streets pitch right behind the restaurant, a location that Wiley helped scout. There, they built a pitch that hosts both adults and kids. 

The work there has turned people who may not have known a lot about soccer into fans and provided an outlet for many local children. From that East Point location stemmed Slices and Strikes, a soccer program that hands out free pizza to children in the community. 

“That’s why we’re here,” Chris Wiley said back in 2020. “We try to support the community where we are established. We are here to give back, to support the community. That’s what we like to do.” 

Chris was in the stands at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, along with his wife and Caleb’s sister. They were able to witness Wiley’s special moment, knowing it already could be a big day for Wiley. He knew that if he got the call from head coach Gonzalo Pineda, then he’d be making his first team debut.

“My emotions were definitely up and down today,” Wiley said. “From being asked to go warm up in the first minutes of the game, to then coming on for my debut. So my emotions were going up and down, but I had a feeling that I would be coming in towards the end, so I was mentally preparing for it.”

Wiley in fact got the nod from Pineda in the 75th minute and was subbed in for Josef Martínez, who assisted both of Atlanta's goals up to that point. It was something of a full circle moment for the club, as a local product entered to play on the field where he once served as a ball boy. And a full circle moment for Wiley himself too, as he entered the match for the Atlanta United player he’s been idolizing since his young days in the academy.


Atlanta was ahead 2-0 when Wiley was brought on as a defensive substitution, but it’s Wiley’s ability to make runs that made him a viable option for Pineda late in the game. The head coach instructed him to defend, stay wide and make those runs. Wiley’s fresh legs threatened Sporting Kansas City on the flank, and when he got a chance, he made the most of it. 

“I don’t think it was the first touch, but it’s definitely a dream come true,” Wiley said. “I don’t score that many goals that often, so when I do, I’m so speechless. When I saw it go into the back of the net, it was a huge moment for me. To do it in front of this huge crowd, in front of friends and family is something special.” 

Sometimes, big moments like that can feel like a blur – especially one that moved as fast as Wiley’s, he scored just 14 minutes after he came on the pitch. And although he remembered the ball going into the back of the net quite well, there was one aspect of the goal he wasn’t entirely sure about.  

“I remember it, but I did have to ask Tyler [Wolff] who actually passed the ball to me, just to make sure,” Wiley said. 

The pass came from Marcelino Moreno on a long through ball he delivered from Atlanta’s half. The youngster tracked it down, made a smart touch toward goal and expertly delivered the ball on an angle that would get past the goalkeeper.

Wiley has been a part of Atlanta United since the club’s inception. He joined the inaugural U-12 academy team in 2016 when he was 11 years old. Since then, he’s risen through the academy. In 2020 when he was just 15 years old, he became the youngest player in club history to appear in a professional game when he debuted with Atlanta United 2.

Not only has Wiley impressed the managers at the club, the Atlanta native has also been getting national attention. Wiley’s been called up with the U.S. men’s national team program several times, joining the U-17s for a few friendly matches in 2020. He was called up to the U-20 men’s national team in 2021 for the Revelations Cup in Mexico, making two starts and playing all three matches, and for training camp this year at IMG Academy.

Atlanta United Homegrowns have created special moments out of their debuts and first few games. Wiley is the second Homegrown to score in his club debut, joining Jackson Conway who scored in his first match against Club America in Concacaf Champions League in December 2020. With his goal, Wiley became the fourth Homegrown player, along with Conway, George Bello and George Campbell, to score for Atlanta United in all competitions.

Along with the stat, Wiley can add his name to the list of players who’ve proven to be successful academy products. With his historic performance on Sunday, he’ll be another strong example for young academy players to look up to. And following the example his father set, Wiley will be looking to give back to those just starting out.

For those players starting their young careers, Wiley offers a heartfelt piece of advice:

“Just keep on dreaming. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be who you want to be. Just go out there and have fun, believe in yourself and you can achieve it.”

Leagues Cup

Leagues Cup

All of the clubs from MLS and Liga MX will compete in a completely reimagined Leagues Cup: an annual, month-long tournament that runs from July 26-August 25, 2024.

Resurgens Kit

Resurgens Kit

Blue is a nod to the renewal of Atlanta. Yellow represents Atlanta’s vibrant history and identity. This is Atlanta United's latest community kit.