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SSFC Spotlight: Tyler Wolff finding production in Atlanta

The young attacker may be turning a corner.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Orlando City SC Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The path to success is rarely a straight line as highly-rated prospects endure stops and starts along the career journey. After a few seasons on the periphery of a breakthrough, Tyler Wolff has hit a strong run of form and is translating his youth productivity into first-team success. The 20-year-old Atlanta United attacker found his goal-scoring touch, stepping up for his club.

Born in Snellville, Georgia, Wolff is the son of former USMNT forward Josh and brother of U-20 midfielder Owen. He was a member of the Columbus Crew academy before following his father to Atlanta United, scoring 14 goals in 11 appearances. After earning an invitation to preseason training and featuring in a friendly, the club promoted the teenaged attacker to the reserve level, which resulted in a single appearance before the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the season.

A few months later, Atlanta United signed him to a first-team contract, turning down an option to follow his father to Austin FC due to seeing a “clear-cut pathway” to playing time. “Tyler is a young attacking player who has shown a lot of potential and we’re excited that his development will continue at Atlanta United,” said club executive and former USMNT defender Carlos Bocanegra. “Since joining the Academy, he’s shown the drive and determination to get to that next level. We’ve been able to challenge Tyler in high-level academy matches, the USL environment, and First Team environment and he’s shown he’s belonged at each level. On the field, he has the quality and versatility to play anywhere across the front four and we believe he has capability to grow into a key contributor at the pro level.”

In his first professional season, Wolff made five appearances and was included on the match-day squad several more times. His first start came in a 4-2 loss to Nashville SC. With the loosening of COVID restrictions in 2021, he was able to split time between the first-team and reserve levels, featuring in seven MLS fixtures due to injury issues in the squad and a further nine in the USL Championship, contributing six goals and one assist. His hat trick and assist in a 6-2 Indy Eleven earned the league’s Player of the Week award. Occasionally lining up out of position at center midfielder, the focus was on “keeping the mentality ready, concentrating on the game, knowing the tactics, knowing [his] role, and doing what [he had] to do.”

Last year, Wolff began the schedule in the starting lineup, featuring in the first five matches. However, inclusions evaporated, appearing for a mere 45 minutes from the beginning of April through July. He joined SK Beveren of Belgium’s second-division Challenger Pro League on a season-long loan, hoping to continue his development and enjoy “the opportunity for [individual] growth.” His struggles for playing time endured, picking up a combined 55 minutes in seven league and cup matches. Despite “showing a lot of potential,” his loan was terminated in January in the hopes of gaining more on-field experience.

Upon returning stateside, Wolff once again split time between the first team and reserves, having overcome a brief injury. Over the past month, he has caught fire, starting with a goal during a 2-1 defeat to Memphis 901 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. That was followed by one goal and two assists in two MLS Next Pro fixtures. His productive run continued with a goal during a substitute appearance in a 4-0 romp over the Colorado Rapids. The attacker then found the back of the net to preserve a point against Orlando City SC, having successfully put his plan into action to “make plenty of off-ball runs and attack a tired [defense].” The expectation is that Atlanta will give him the chance to stake a claim in the starting lineup during the rest of the season.

“For me, individually, sometimes you can’t pinpoint what has changed,” Wolff expressed recently. “Sometimes, you just get in the right areas and finish off the plays, and sometimes, it’s not going for you. I’m just happy right now that they’re going in, I’m getting in good spots, and continuing to help the team… For me, running off the ball, winning balls, that helps rejuvenate the team… Being up and down [between the first and second teams], there’s mental challenges, physical challenges. I think the biggest part is trying to stay mentally in it and helping out whenever you can, whenever you’re called upon.”

At the international level, Wolff was on the roster for the 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. He appeared in all six matches, scored two goals, and started in the final, a 6-0 victory over the Dominican Republic. Despite being included for the 2022 Revelations Cup and a camp in January, head coach Mikey Varas elected to leave him out of the U-20 World Cup.

Wolff can play winger, striker, and attacking midfielder, attempting to emulate Sergio Aguero’s “runs behind defenses” and link-up play. Dirty South Soccer describes him as “proactive, aggressive, relentless in the press, and hungry for goals.” He excels when combining with teammates and moving behind the back line into the proper space, while also possessing a high work rate that forces the opponent into turnovers.

“He’s a very complete player,” said Atlanta head coach Gonzalo Pineda. “At his age, he’s technical, he has some edge on him. He has some good physicality, so he can repeat actions at high intensity… I think he can bring intensity, relentless movement. He has some edge to come back and defend, put some tackles, then with his quality, he can impact the final third. He is someone that I believe is goal dangerous. He also has versatility to play in multiple positions which is very valuable.”

A run of good form can be the start of an ascent, but many players fail to build on their success and establish a baseline of consistency. Wolff has made his initial breakthrough and should continue to receive opportunities at the MLS level for the remainder of the season. While left off of the U-20 World Cup roster, he is another talented member of the 2003 group to monitor over the coming years.