Cobb’s Bloom ready for chance with Atlanta United

Hanging in the office of Berry College coach Richard Vardy’s office is a red Toronto FC jersey, signed by former Viking Mark Bloom.

Vardy hopes to soon hang a red-and-black Atlanta United jersey signed by Bloom.

The former Lassiter High standout, who played at Berry, was picked up by Atlanta United as part of a trade with Toronto in December following the expansion draft. Atlanta United President Darren Eales said Bloom had caught his eye when Toronto had workouts against his former team, Tottenham, a few years ago.

“I was really excited, but soccer was more important than the place,” Bloom said. “It wasn’t so much about coming to Atlanta, it was more about coming to a good organization, a good team, a team that’s trying to do it right.

“Yes, it’s an expansion team, but they did a good job, did their homework on the players they signing. It seemed like a really good situation. Obviously, the family side of it was incredible as well.”

At the time, he was one of two fullbacks. The squad has since added Greg Garza, currently in camp with the U.S. men’s national team and is primarly a left back, and Tyrone Mears, who was in the starting 11 when Seattle won the MLS Cup last year and is primarily a right back.

Despite Bloom’s versatility (he prefers to play right back), Vardy said he never considered the possibility that his player would become a professional in MLS for the same reason: “I just didn’t necessarily see a way into it,” Bloom said.

One of the issues was Bloom’s size. Coming out of high school, Bloom was 5-9, 125 pounds, which also explains the lack of interest from bigger schools.

After his freshmen year, Bloom finally bloomed. He estimates he weighed 165 pounds, which remains his weight.

While the size issue was partially solved, Bloom faced the second issue: a lack of history. He and Vardy said players from small schools typically begin the next chapter of their lives with grad school or employment once college soccer is over. Pro soccer typically isn’t an option.

Bloom couldn’t do anything about what happened in the past. He thought he was technically gifted enough to become a pro. He needed to add strength to improve his chances, should he get an opportunity.

After his sophomore year Bloom began to attack that problem with the help of an assistant coach at Berry.

“He was in the gym the whole time and working out and really pushed himself to the next level,” Vardy said. “It was tangible watching him in weight room. He was 110-percent focused.”

Bloom turned pro after his senior year and played at St. Louis and then Charlotte in lower divisions before signing with the Silverbacks in 2013. Just a few months later he was making his MLS debut with Toronto after going on loan to the club.

He became a full-time starter in 2014 before injuries sidelined him for most of 2015 and ’16. He is now healthy and was acquired by Atlanta United in a trade for goalkeeper Clint Irwin. Vardy seemed confident that if Bloom can stay healthy and get a good run of games and training he will contend for a starting spot with Atlanta United, and then maybe he will get a second jersey to hang on his wall.

He has already impressed Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino.

“One of the attractive things about him is he can play on either side,” Martino said through a translator. “On teams there are certain players that can decide games, but there are also players that are consistent and can maintain style and flow of game. He’s a great example of that.”

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