Mark Bloom recognizes the situation. He’s seen it before, only he’s viewed it from the opposite side.
When Toronto FC brought in Bloom last July on loan from the Atlanta Silverbacks of the NASL, it was to put pressure on starting right fullback Richard Eckersley. While Eckersley was phased out by coach Ryan Nelsen due to his exorbitant (by MLS standards) contract, Bloom made the position his own, starting the last six games of the season.
Now, the shoe is on the other foot. Bloom isn’t being phased out—in fact, the club exercised its loan option and inked him to a permanent deal in the off-season.
But Toronto did sign right fullback Bradley Orr on loan from English side Blackburn earlier this month. Orr and Nelsen were teammates for a brief spell in the Premier League at Blackburn, and the expectation is the English defender will be the starter this upcoming campaign, while Bloom and fellow right fullback Ryan Richter will back him up.
But if Bloom, a 26-year-old Georgia native, is disappointed about Orr’s arrival, he’s hiding it very well.
"I want them to bring in good players. I don’t want my spot just to be given to me—I want to earn it," Bloom told Sportsnet. "With a guy like Bradley, I’m going to have to earn every minute and it works the other way, too. I’m going to make him earn it."
Bloom, in fact, is using Orr’s presence at pre-season camp in Florida to his own advantage. Bloom feels he can learn a lot from Orr who, at 31, has vast experience having spent time at Queens Park Rangers, Bristol City, Burnley, Ipswich Town and Blackpool in his travels through the English leagues.
"Bradley has a great soccer mind and when we do the tactical sessions in practice, I like to look at how he plays. Anybody with his experience and resume has something to offer and is someone you can learn from," Bloom said.
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Last year was a bit of a whirlwind for Bloom, going from relative obscurity in the NASL to the (relatively) bright lights of MLS. For five years, Bloom toiled in the lower tiers of North American soccer—in ports of call such as St. Louis, Charlotte and Atlanta—and had doubts he’d ever get the chance to play in North America’s top tier. So when TFC came calling, he made the most of it.
"There aren’t a lot of guys from the NASL who get the chance [to move up to MLS], so for me it was an incredible blessing and a great opportunity to be able to show that I have the quality to play in this league," Bloom explained
He won plaudits from the coaching staff and the fans for his probing runs down the right flank, his willingness to join the attack, and his ability to deliver dangerous balls into the box, like when he did against D.C. United for striker Bright Dike to volley home in a 4-1 TFC win.
Getting forward comes naturally to Bloom, who played as an attacking and central midfielder growing up.
"With that background, I felt as though I would be stuck at fullback if I didn’t go forward, so I really enjoy getting into the attack," Bloom said. "It’s my style of play and most coaches have enjoyed the fact that I get down the flanks into the final third and deliver crosses intro the box."
He also believes that his attacking runs down the right flank have defensive benefits for his team.
"The more success I can have going up the sidelines means [opposing] left-sided players won’t have as many chances to come forward. I see it a defensive tactic as well, because they’re getting worn out chasing me," Bloom explained.
Still, as a defender Bloom’s first job it to stop the other team from scoring. And while he views getting forward as crucial part of his job, Bloom has to see to his defensive duties first and foremost. That’s why he doesn’t go forward just for the sake of it—he tries to choose his spots carefully.
"Whenever you go forward you leave the back line exposed. But as [Assistant Coach] Jim Brennan tells me every game, I’m a defender first and everything else is a bonus," Bloom said.
"So my mentality is not just to bomb up and down the sideline every chance I get just because I can, but to pick my moment—when to go and when not go, when to hold and when to support and when to overlap."
Maybe that’s the key for Bloom this season, in the squad as well as out on the pitch: knowing when to hold, when to support and when to overlap. And when to pick his moments to make his mark.