It was all glum faces and sombre whispers in Toronto FC’s locker-room following last weekend’s 3-0 loss to New England.
Maybe the players had a sense of what was to come–that coach Ryan Nelsen would be fired less than 24 hours later, and Greg Vanney would be installed as his successor. Maybe they just felt the pain associated with another humbling loss. Or maybe it was both. Whatever it was, the mood was pretty grim. Even Mark Bloom, the easy-going TFC right back known for having a perma-smile etched on his face, sported a sour look when talking about the team’s performance with two reporters in front of his locker.
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But then he was asked THE question—the one he still hadn’t grown tired answering ever since the birth of his daughter a few days earlier: “How’s the baby, doing?”
Bloom’s mood instantly changed as he flashed that trademark smile, before replying, “She’s great.” He quickly paused and became more serious before adding: “It just sucks that I had to come back here and leave my two girls at home.”
One of those girls is Dagny Clementine Bloom, his newborn daughter named after the protagonist in author Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged. The other girl is his wife Emma, a 25-year-old member of the United States Navy Nurse Corps stationed in Pensacola, Florida.
Emma went into labour last week, and Mark hopped on a plane to Florida and made it in time to witness the birth of the couple’s first child. The very next day, he boarded a plane back to Toronto so that he could play against New England. It killed him to leave, especially after being separated from his wife for most of her pregnancy.
But his wife understood—as she has during the entire time they’ve been apart. And it’s that level of understanding that she’s shown her husband that has helped the TFC right back become one of the rising young stars in Major League Soccer.
“Everything I’ve accomplished as a soccer player, I owe to Emma. If she were the type of wife who resented me being here, she could easily say ‘what’s more important: soccer or your family?’ Obviously the answer would have to be my family, but she wants me up here in Toronto just as much as I want to be up here. She’s been phenomenal in terms of supporting me and giving me everything I need to be successful,” Bloom told Sportsnet.
Emma gives her husband all the credit for his stunning rise from the meagre ranks of the Charlotte Eagles of the USL-Pro League and the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks to playing alongside players the calibre of Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe for Toronto in Major League Soccer.
“When we first started dating he was playing in the USL, and I knew then with his work ethic that he should have been playing in MLS. I’m not surprised at his progression and how well he’s doing,” Emma said. “I’m so proud of him, the way he went into this season when they brought in other players potentially to play right back and he worked so hard to keep that spot his own.”
Married in November of 2012, the young couple didn’t want to wait very long to start a family, even though the uncertainty of Bloom’s life as a professional athlete can become chaotic in an instant, whether through injury or being traded.
With Bloom living in another country, the pregnancy was far from easy for Emma, even though she had the support of her parents, brother and sister who all live nearby. She had to take care of things around the house on her own while working full-time. Bloom would come home on weekends when he didn’t have a game—Emma quickly put him to work one weekend by having him paint the baby’s room. Otherwise, they never saw each other—not in the flesh anyway.
“We’d spend a lot of time on Face Time when we were apart. Hours will go by and we’ll be Face Timing, even if we’re both doing other stuff around the house,” Emma laughed. “I know he’s very far away, but it doesn’t feel that way. I think that’s one great thing about Mark—he’s just a rock. Even though he’s in Toronto pursuing his dream career, he’s such a rock in our relationship.”
Watching her husband play for TFC on television helped Emma feel as though they were together. But when she watched Bloom suffer what turned out to be an MCL strain against Vancouver last month—an injury that ended up sidelining him for six games—that unnerved her.
“It was pretty devastating. To see him go down like that and having to come off the field, it was torture to have to wait to hear what the word was. .. It made my stomach turn,” Emma admitted.
Bloom, a native of Marietta, Georgia, met his wife while they attended Berry College, about 70 miles from Atlanta. He was a sophomore when she was a freshman. They both played soccer at Berry. Emma was a right-back, too.
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“She was pretty good. She was scrappy,” Bloom quipped. “You wouldn’t get that from talking to her now because she’s so sweet. You wouldn’t see her as a tenacious defender, but she really was back in college.”
The split up but remained friends, and Emma ended up going to a nursing school at Emery University in Atlanta. Bloom was playing for the Silverbacks at the time, and they reconnected after going on a mission trip together with a bunch of mutual friends. Four years after they originally met, sparks flew again, and they eventually got engaged.
Emma speaks with great pride about her husband, for all he’s accomplished on the field. But she’s especially proud that Bloom hasn’t let modest success get to his head—that he’s the same guy she first met on the campus of Berry College eight years ago,
“He hasn’t changed. He is one of the truest characters you will ever find. He’s the sweetest and most genuine man, and I think TFC fans recognize that, how much of a good guy he is. He puts everybody before himself,” Emma said.
Bloom has been one of Toronto FC’s most consistent players this year, and he’s done it while being underpaid. According to the MLS Players’ Union website, Bloom will earn a meagre $48,825 in 2014. Club GM Tim Bezbatchenko confirmed he plans to talk to Bloom about his contract in the off-season, and offer him a raise.
“We’re getting by. Obviously it would be a huge blessing if he got a pay raise but it’s not something that we’re struggling with right now. It helps that I have a career as well,” Emma offered.
Soon, Emma and Dagny will join Mark in Toronto where she will spend a good portion of her maternity leave. And when that’s done, she and her daughter will go back to Florida, while Mark finishes out the season.
But Bloom knows that he can continue to count on his wife’s unconditional love and support, even as he misses spending time with his daughter during a formative time in her life.
“Emma and I knew what we were getting ourselves into. We knew there’d be distance. But we also knew that making the commitment of marriage and raising a family would make the distance easier, not harder. We have that security and trust in each other, and we’ve made a commitment to make it work, and that’s what we’re doing,” Bloom said.