Q&A: Former TFC defender Mark Bloom on retiring, MLS, time in Toronto

Mark Bloom while playing for Toronto FC. (Mark Blinch/CP)

If Mark Bloom had his way, he’d still be playing soccer.

But life isn’t always about doing what you want – often times, it’s about doing what you have to do. That’s why Bloom announced earlier this week that he was retiring from soccer, calling time on his career at the tender age of 30, even though he felt he had plenty of good years still left in him.

Bloom spent four seasons with Toronto FC, making 39 appearances for the Reds from 2013 to 2016. He won plaudits on the pitch for his consistent displays at right fullback, and became one of the team’s most liked players during his time in Toronto – current Reds defender Nick Hagglund is godfather to one of Bloom’s daughters.

After a tenure in Toronto that was highlighted by professional ups and downs, and injury issues, Bloom joined Atlanta United last year as part of a weird trade – Atlanta picked goalkeeper Clint Irwin in the expansion draft and then traded him back to TFC later that same day for Bloom.

The move to Atlanta was supposed to be a glorious homecoming for Bloom, who grew up in nearby Marietta, Ga. Prior to coming to Toronto, Bloom played for the Atlanta Silverbacks in the second-tier North American Soccer League.

Bloom only made two appearances during the 2017 MLS campaign for Atlanta under coach Gerardo Martino, and the club declined to pick up his contract option at the end of the year. Bloom spent part of this past pre-season on trial with the Vancouver Whitecaps, but the club decided not to sign him.

With no other options in MLS, and a wife and two young daughters to support, Bloom decided to call it quits, announcing his retirement in an Instagram post. Still living in Atlanta, the former TFC defender is ready to move on to the next chapter in his life, as he is line for a job with Edward Jones as a financial advisor.

In this one-on-one interview with Sportsnet, Mark Bloom explained why he called time on his career, why players such as him are in danger of losing opportunities in MLS, and he looks back on his time with Toronto FC.

SN: Tell me about why you have decided to retire. What led you to this decision?

Bloom: It’s one of those things where I didn’t necessarily choose to retire, except for the circumstances were kind of leaning in that direction. I was on trial with Vancouver and that didn’t work out. By the time that was over, it was just extremely difficult to find a team in need of a right back with the season about to start. At that point, everybody pretty much has their roster set, and it was going to take the perfect situation and the perfect time to find a team, and sometimes you just can’t find it. Sometimes it comes down to good timing, and this was poor timing for me. I just didn’t have the opportunity to continue my career.

There was also a sense that I’m 30, I have a wife and two young daughters, we moved back to Atlanta and bought a house, and I’ve been thinking for the past couple of years what I was going to do next, so I felt I was prepared for this. It wasn’t really a scary moment for me that I couldn’t find a team. Of course, I wanted to keep playing. Every player wants to play for as long as they can and go out on their terms, but the reality is the majority of us don’t get that opportunity.

SN: So, fair to say you made this decision to retire earlier than you would have wanted?

Bloom: Absolutely. There’s only a small window to find a team – I had to wait until the end of last year, and now a lot of teams are looking for international players. Once they do or don’t find those players, then they start looking for the available American players. Roster spots fill up quickly and there’s a lot of players looking for jobs, and it’s very competitive. It can be very hard to find something.

SN: How does the injection of new Targeted Allocation Money in MLS affect the ability of players of your stature to find jobs in the league?

Bloom: It absolutely makes it more difficult. Teams have more TAM to go after bigger name players, and teams are looking at young, international players who are looking to prove themselves. Now that they have the budget to do it, that’s the driving factor for teams when they’re looking to spend this money.

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SN: Did you have other options? Did you consider playing for a team in the second-tier United Soccer League?

Bloom: I did consider it. I didn’t want to consider it, really, until I had to. I’ve played in the USL and it’s a great league, but it’s also a league for younger players to develop. It was one of those things for me where if I dropped down a level at this point in my career, will I ever be able to go back up again to MLS? I was weighing the options of taking less money and continuing my career. But if I did that I would be uprooting my family and moving to a new city, and putting an extra strain on my family, when in reality my career would only last a few more years because of my age. So, I started to view it as an opportunity to start my career post-soccer and get a jump on that.

SN: Atlanta ended up trading for you after they picked Clint Irwin in the 2016 expansion draft. To give up an asset like Irwin, a goalkeeper who could start on most MLS teams, suggests that they thought highly enough of you. But you only played two matches and didn’t dress for most games. Why didn’t it work out for you in Atlanta?

Bloom: I can’t say for sure. With the trade, I think it was pretty clear that they did have a desire for me to come to the team and have a role. But I think those decisions were made without [coach Gerardo] Martino’s input – it was [club president] Darren Eales and [general manager] Carlos Bocanegra who made that decision. Ultimately, the GM and the president can provide a coach with a roster they think is competitive, but not everybody fits into a coach’s system.

Then they signed [veteran right fullback] Tyrone Mears before the start of the season, and I’m not sure that was in their long-term plans when they traded for me – maybe I was sort of their security blanket for them if they couldn’t find anybody else then I would be suitable for the job.

I felt like I was in a good situation as the season progressed because I was first in line for either left back or right back. But Tata didn’t change the lineup at all or mix in players, so I was basically waiting for an injury [to a teammate] that never happened. I was in the mix and was ready to play, but I only got a handful of chances. Then a bizarre decision in the middle of the year when they decided to play Tyrone, who is a centre back, at right back pushed me out of the situation entirely. It was a series of decisions that were completely out of my control, and led me to my current situation.

SN: Did Martino ever explain to you why he wasn’t picking you?

Bloom: When he finally decided to make a change at right back and play a centre back there, the day before he told me I was either going to start or be the 19th man, which was a pretty weird thing to say. I took it to mean that I was going to start, and then next day came and he had someone else starting and I didn’t make the 18-man roster. It was a very bizarre situation for me, but that was when I knew it was over for me at Atlanta. At that point, I became the third-choice right back. It was tough for me to swallow because it didn’t make sense.

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SN: When you look back on it, how will you reflect upon your tenure with Toronto FC?

Bloom: It’s where I spent the bulk of my career, so I have nothing but fond memories of my time in Toronto. It was where I got to play in MLS, so there’s that. I was there almost four years, so I felt like that was my first home. I really got to know the team, the staff, the front office, the fans, the city – I developed some genuine relationships in Toronto.

I played with some incredible players, and guys who I am very good friends with to this day. TFC will also be a team that holds a special place in my heart, and I’ll always be a TFC fan. When I left, I had no bad feelings towards Toronto or anybody at the club. There’s a lot of mutual respect, so because of that, I’ll always be rooting for them. I have nothing but good memories about Toronto.

SN: What was the highlight of your career?

Bloom: TFC’s run to the [2016] MLS Cup. That was really special to me because when I first got to Toronto, it was sort of the turning point. They made changes on the coaching side, [GM] Tim Bezbatchenko] came in, players like Michael Bradley signed on. It was cool to see the culture of the club do a 180 and completely change, and then the results did a 180 as well. To go from going into a game hoping to get a draw or not losing badly to expecting to win and being disappointed with a draw, it was something to see that change happen up close. So, to go from a team that was starting to turn the corner to making a run in the playoffs and getting to MLS Cup, that was so fun to be a part of. The fans were waiting for something special to happen, and it finally clicked in that year. Then they took that, unfortunately when I wasn’t there, and reached even higher last season when they won the MLS Cup. [laughs]

SN: Was it difficult for you to watch TFC win the MLS Cup without you?

Bloom: It was weird. The setting and scenario was identical: playing the final at BMO Field against Seattle with essentially the same group of guys, and at the end of the game it was a different result. So, it was kind of like me seeing what I was expecting to see the previous year when we lost. It was like I relived the 2015 final only I didn’t get to reap the benefits. Toronto didn’t make a lot of changes after I left, so to see the same guys celebrating, I felt like I missed out. But at the same time, I couldn’t have been happier for the guys. They deserved it.

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