“I see myself in that starting role. I hope [management] does, too. I understand that we need another right back, and if they go out and get one that won’t hurt my feelings. We need depth…. But I hope I’m that first option, and going into pre-season it’s my goal to prove to them that I am the first option.”
— Sportsnet: Bloom could be answer to TFC’s fullback problem
All things considered, Mark Bloom was feeling pretty good about himself last November.
After missing the entire 2015 Major League Soccer season due to a series of injuries, including a quad tear that forced him to have surgery over the summer, the Toronto FC defender was working out and undergoing physiotherapy, and he was on the road to recovery. He was pain-free and had a good range of motion, and said he expected to be back at full health even before the start of pre-season training camp for the 2016 MLS campaign.
That’s when he uttered the quote that tops this article, feeling he could win back the starting right fullback position he held down before the injuries.
A lot has changed since then. Most notably, TFC acquired Steven Beitashour in a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps last month in order to shore up the right side of defence, a major problem area for the Reds last season. With Beitashour expected to start at right fullback in 2016, Bloom will be relegated to a backup role—this after enduring one of the most difficult years of his professional career.
Is he bitter about it? Upset? Disappointed? If so, he’s hiding it incredibly well. Known for his trademark positive attitude, Bloom is as philosophical as ever about his situation.
“In a dream world nobody would ever have any competition. They would just get the starting spot. In reality you need two capable players at each position. If [TFC] were going to go out and get a right back, why not get the best player that’s available? Steven was the best right fullback available. On the business side of it, it makes perfect sense and I don’t think anybody can question that,” Bloom told Sportsnet.
He later added: “As far as who’s the starter and who’s not the starter, it’s out of my hands. All I can do is be a good teammate to him and try to encourage him to do well, while at the same time do well myself and ultimately make it a hard decision for the coach.”
Beitashour’s arrival in Toronto should help strengthen a team that conceded a league-high 58 goals in 2015. Still, there’s no denying that his arrival is bad news for Bloom, who was one of the Reds’ most consistent defenders prior to his injury problems.
“Personally, it does make it more difficult for me to get a starting spot. At the same time, this is professional sports, so I get it. That’s not to say I don’t want to be the starter. I want to start and I want to prove that I’m the starter. I still believe in myself that I can be a starter,” Bloom said.
“I can only control what I can control and do my best. I can’t wrap myself in what the coach is thinking because then it becomes a mental game that you can’t win.”
Despite the demotion, Bloom is still feeling pretty good about himself. His surgeon cleared him to play last month and he claims to be 100-percent healthy—although he admits he’s not in game shape. He’s back training with TFC again, having played in a number of friendlies as part of the club’s pre-season camp in California.
“I felt really comfortable on the ball, which is a tribute to the work I’ve put in during the off-season. When I wasn’t allowed to sprint or run or really kick far [during the rehabilitation process] I was only dribbling and focusing on my footwork. I’ve definitely noticed that’s improved and I feel more comfortable on the ball than ever before,” Bloom explained.
TFC has been busy this off-season. Aside from the addition of Beitashour the club also signed goalkeeper Clint Irwin (who played with Bloom in the third-tier USL when both were members of the Charlotte Eagles earlier in their careers), defender Drew Moor and Canadian midfielder Will Johnson.
Bloom and Johnson have a kinship of sorts. Back in 2014, Toronto FC was hosting the Portland Timbers at BMO Field and was in desperate need of a win to keep its faint playoff hopes alive. A mere eight seconds into the game, Johnson’s heavy touch led to a loose ball in the centre of the field. He and Bloom raced and slid for it, with neither pulling out of the 50/50 challenge.
Johnson ended up with a broken leg and had to undergo surgery, and he didn’t return to action until the following year.
The two chatted about the incident when they met in Toronto last month.
“It was a little funny. We just looked at each other and I said ‘How’s your leg?’ and we both burst out laughing. We both knew it was bad for him, but as it turned out it was bad for me, too. We both felt the repercussions of that play. There are no hard feelings whatsoever,” Bloom said.
Bloom has been dogged by injury problems ever since that day. The lengthy injury layoff was grueling for him, but the time off has also underlined what was really important to him.
“It was a very emotional and difficult process. It really tested my mental toughness, as my progress went up and down,” Bloom said.
“I focused on little victories. When I could start jogging, or start running—they were small victories but to me they were big milestones. That’s what got me through it, as well as my wife and daughter. At the end of the day, they’re everything to me. If I didn’t have soccer I have them. I’m a pretty lucky guy just for that, so that rally puts it all in perspective for me.”
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