Bloom, Garza giving back to soccer through Georgia Alliance

Former Atlanta United player Greg Garza works with players from Georgia Alliance FC during a recent training session.
Former Atlanta United player Greg Garza works with players from Georgia Alliance FC during a recent training session.

Credit: Georgia Alliance FC

Credit: Georgia Alliance FC

Wanting to give back to the sport that they say has given them so much, former Atlanta United players Mark Bloom and Greg Garza have joined the front office of Smyrna-based youth soccer club Georgia Alliance FC.

Bloom, who played for Atlanta United in its inaugural 2017 season, is the club’s technical director, tasked with helping steer the club’s philosophy and how it functions. He’s been with Georgia Alliance for two years.

Garza, who played for the club in 2017 and ‘18 before he was traded to Cincinnati, joined two weeks ago. A technically gifted player, Garza is the director of player development, working with players across all age groups to make sure they are achieving proficiencies established by Bloom and the club.

“The most important thing for me is looking back when I was a kid and all the special coaches and trainers I had. ... Without those things I wouldn’t be here today,” Garza said. “I enjoy helping the kids as much as I can on those journeys and pathways and seeking those dreams.”

Greg Garza of Atlanta United makes a move past N.Y. Red Bulls defender Alex Muyl during the first half of their first game in franchise history Sunday, March 5, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Greg Garza of Atlanta United makes a move past N.Y. Red Bulls defender Alex Muyl during the first half of their first game in franchise history Sunday, March 5, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Bloom, who grew up in Marietta and played at Lassiter High School before matriculating at Berry College in Rome, started with the club as a volunteer. Georgia Alliance Chief Operating Officer Adam Beckman reached out to Bloom on LinkedIn about a matter unrelated to soccer. They began to talk, and Bloom began to come out to the fields once a week to work with the kids. Sometimes he’d bring another Atlanta United player, Jeff Larentowicz.

The more Bloom began to work with the kids and he began to understand Georgia Alliance’s philosophy and plan, the more he wanted to help. Bloom took over coaching one team and then took over working with Beckman and Academy Director Joey Syfert on helping all of the teams.

“It’s not my full-time job but part of my passion,” Bloom, 33, said. “It’s a way for me to give back to the game because the game has given me so much. I couldn’t help but get more involved.”

Two of Garza’s children play for Georgia Alliance teams. As with Bloom, the more Garza learned about the club and its beliefs, the more he wanted to take a more active role. Garza said he also appreciated the diverse spectrum of players on Alliance teams, which is something he didn’t experience as a youth player. As an example, he cited a player’s father, born in Mexico, who came up to him to discuss his appreciation for Garza’s work with the kids.

“He said he loved seeing me training kids because not everyone has the opportunity to make it as far as we did,” he said. “Very humbling. Something like that is very special.”

Beckman and Syfert said that Garza and Bloom are effective teachers for many reasons. Of course, there’s their star power. Bloom played four seasons for Toronto before he signed with Atlanta United. Garza, 29, traveled the globe during his career, playing in Portugal and Mexico before joining Atlanta United on loan from Tijuana in 2017 and helping the club win the MLS Cup in 2018.

So, when either spots a player who is early to arrive at practice, and they share with them a tip or trick with the demand to see that player have it in their arsenal in a week, it carries weight. And that player typically will have a good start on that advice within a week.

“They are able to inspire these kids,” Syfert said. “Such little cameos have impact that we can’t achieve as coaches.”

Also helping is that Bloom and Garza are excellent communicators who stay positive, according to Beckman and Syfert.

“What takes them 30-40 seconds can take a really good coach as long as two minutes,” Beckman said. “Makes a world of difference. They played for the best coaches in world coming up. It’s not something you can replicate, even with great coaches.”

Bloom shared a story of a player on the team he coached. Bloom said the player reminded him of himself at that age: not the biggest and not the fastest but technically gifted. The player didn’t start in the tournament game. Bloom pulled him aside and told him that he was like him at that age. Bloom put the player into the game, and he positively affected the result. The player started the next game and showed increased confidence. That talk only took a few seconds but may impact the player for a long time.

Atlanta United defender Mark Bloom dribbles a Chattanooga defender during he first pre-season match Feb. 11, 2017 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Atlanta United defender Mark Bloom dribbles a Chattanooga defender during he first pre-season match Feb. 11, 2017 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

As for their influences, Bloom and Garza laughed and answered with a “no” when asked if they wear an orange penny over their shirts when they are coaching, as former Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino typically did. But, as with many of their coaches, they did learn from him.

Bloom said he learned the importance of sticking to plans.

“He stuck to his guns,” Bloom said. “If it breaks apart, he said he will take responsibility. That really stuck with me as a coach.”

Garza learned that just because things that happen during training may seem crazy -- he cited goalkeeper Brad Guzan dribbling along the goal line to break pressure -- at the time it is an attempt to get the most out of the available players.

“You take a look at all these and use those tips and tricks each and every day you use them with the kids,” Garza said.

Though Garza’s playing career may not yet be over, he said he sees himself working with youth soccer long-term, describing it as his calling and passion.

Together, Bloom and Garza are helping Georgia Alliance to achieve its long-term goal of producing players for Atlanta United and the U.S. national team. If not that, then players who will one day raise or work with soccer players. Just like Bloom and Garza are doing.

“It’s nice to see these guys giving back to the soccer community,” Syfert said.

Former Atlanta United player Mark Bloom works with players from Georgia Alliance FC during a recent training session.
Former Atlanta United player Mark Bloom works with players from Georgia Alliance FC during a recent training session.

Credit: Georgia Alliance FC

Credit: Georgia Alliance FC

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