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Inside “hometown hero” Caleb Wiley’s path to the USMNT and Atlanta United

Here's how Wiley burst onto the scene in the United States, and what his story tells us about American soccer.

8 min read
Atlanta United

It’s 2015. Caleb Wiley hasn’t become one of the brightest young stars in Major League Soccer yet. He hasn’t become a promising left back option for the U.S. men’s national team yet, either. I mean, come on people, he hasn’t even finished elementary school.

Wiley is 10 years old.

The Atlanta native is playing club soccer in his hometown. He plays a host of positions — sometimes he’s up top, other times he’s on the wing or playing as an attacking midfielder — but he’s always somewhere in the attack. He’s good. Very good. As Wiley scores goals for Decatur-Dekalb YMCA Soccer Club, a new giant enters the local soccer scene. Atlanta United, who had just been unveiled as an expansion team one year earlier, announced that their youth academy was going to begin play in 2016. That announcement meant things were about to change, both for soccer in the city of Atlanta and for Wiley’s future.

That change announced itself to Wiley in the same way that most of life’s biggest moments tend to unveil themselves: via email.

“I just remember getting an email or something saying you've been chosen to try out for [Atlanta United’s] U-12s, the academy team,” Wiley told Backheeled. “I basically had two tryouts, ended up making both, and then making the final team roster. That's how it started.”

Wiley was in. He was an official member of Atlanta’s inaugural U-12 team. Now he just had to finish elementary school…

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