TORONTO — Mark Bloom circled the date on his calendar as soon as the MLS schedule came out.
The former Toronto FC defender returns to BMO Field on Saturday, this time as a member of expansion Atlanta United.
"I kind of left in a hurry so it will be nice to come back and see everybody once again in not such a rushed state," said Bloom. "(I'm) looking forward to the experience ... I'm excited."
Bloom's four-year stint in Toronto ended abruptly in December when TFC traded him to Atlanta to get starting goalkeeper Clint Irwin back after the Georgia team took him in the expansion draft.
Atlanta (2-1-1) is actually above Toronto (1-0-3) in the standings despite the fact that Toronto is one of only three unbeaten teams in the league, along with FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City.
"It's definitely a club that's doing it right, just like Toronto is," Bloom said of Atlanta.
The new franchise is owned by Arthur Blank, who counts the NFL's Atlanta Falcons among his holdings. "Great guy," said Bloom.
A new stadium is slated to open in late July and Atlanta United's new training centre just opened in Marietta.
"It's a lot like Toronto's except nicer and newer," Bloom said of the training ground.
Atlanta has been a hit on and off the field, drawing a total of 101,219 to its first two home games at its temporary home of Bobby Dodd stadium, where the Georgia Tech football team plays.
While the 29-year-old Bloom enjoyed his time in Toronto, the move to Atlanta took him back to his roots. He grew up in nearby Marietta and went to Berry College, about an hour northwest of Atlanta. Bloom also played for the Atlanta Silverbacks before being loaned to Toronto.
The move also takes him closer to wife Emma, a Navy lieutenant stationed in Pensacola, Fla., and their two daughters. They had been doing the long-distance thing in Toronto.
Emma's navy stint is due to finish in August and the family will finally be together in Atlanta, where Bloom has just bought a house. In the meantime their commute is a five-hour drive rather than a cross-border flight.
Bloom started 26 games in 2014 for Toronto but was hurt late in the season in a collision that left Will Johnson with a badly broken leg and Bloom with a damaged meniscus. Bloom finished out the year but needed knee surgery in the off-season.
He believes the knee may have led to a quadricep injury that forced him to miss all of 2015. Bloom underwent surgery to repair the torn quadricep, followed by six months of rest and rehab.
"An unfortunate series of events," he said.
When he returned in 2016, newly acquired Steven Beitashour had taken over at right back.
But his ties to the team remain close. Toronto defender Nick Hagglund and his wife are godparents to Bloom’s youngest daughter Pippa.
Bloom wore 28 in Toronto but has No. 21 in Atlanta. He says 28 was just the number given him at TFC, which did not offer him a choice.
"I always kept it just as a reminder of where I started. When I got traded to Atlanta I decided I wanted to move away from 28. It's a new team, it's a new start, so try a new number."
Atlanta drew 0-0 at Seattle a week ago. Now it faces the other 2016 MLS Cup finalist.
"We know Toronto has some very talented players," Argentine coach Gerardo (Tata) Martino said through an interpreter. "They're very good individually and also collectively. So we know we're going to have to be at our best to be able to take the game where we want it to be."
The expansion side is without star striker Josef Martinez (left quad injury). Martino said midfielder Jacob Peterson, who spent two seasons with Toronto, injured his ankle in training this week and was unlikely to make the trip.
Bloom has been on the bench this season with Atlanta's back four of Greg Garza, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst and Tyrone Mears getting the job done. Atlanta has two shutouts already and hasn't conceded a goal in 240 minutes.
"There's really no reason to make any changes," said Bloom. "As for me, it's all about patience and just waiting and doing my best every day in training and just making sure that (Martino) knows I'm there waiting for my chance. That's my job right now."
Toronto has three clean sheets and hasn't been scored on in 197 minutes. The defending Eastern Conference champion has lost just six of 31 matches (15-6-10) since last June, with one of those defeats part of a playoff aggregate win (over Montreal).
Still, coach Greg Vanney will be eager to get turn ties in the wins, looking to the triumvirate of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Victor Vazquez to move the offence into high gear.
Alex Bono starts in goal for the injured Irwin (hamstring strain). Fullback Justin Morrow, who missed last week's 0-0 tie with Sporting Kansas City with a sore heel, is fit again.
Toronto waived Johan Brunell this week. The Finnish defender became surplus to requirements after veteran Jason Hernandez was signed.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press