World Cup 2014 – In Praise of: Mark Geiger
Americans are getting more and more into football (“soccer”) and were pretty supportive of the USMNT, who improbably emerged from the Group of Death to make it to the Round of 16.
But what many of them didn’t realize was that the real American hero in this World Cup wasn’t Tim Howard or Julian Green.
He was a 39 year old math teacher from New Jersey.
MLS referee Mark Geiger broke every barrier for US referees in this tournament, his first at this level.
According to the Professional Referee Organization’s (PRO) General Manager, Peter Walton:
“Becoming the first American referee to officiate a knock-out game in the World Cup Finals is testimony to the way Mark Geiger and his two assistants, Joe Fletcher and Sean Hurd, performed throughout the tournament.
Mark’s management skills and application of law, coupled with his dynamic fitness, enabled him to bring to a satisfactory conclusion three games, where the post-match discussion was about the game and not the officiating.
Their performances have indeed raised the positive profile of North American soccer officiating and have raised the bar for others to follow.”
He took two games in the group stages (his second coming even before the illustrious Howard Webb had his first). And while his first match was low profile, his second was anything but.
Spain v. Chile was a tough, aggressive game, and Geiger refereed it like a boss. He was everywhere on the pitch, keeping up with play and communicating firmly but fairly.
I was so impressed with this performance, that I named it amongst my top five in the group and knockout stages.
FIFA must have agreed with me, because they awarded him a knockout stage game: France v. Nigeria.
He was the first American ever to referee a match in the knockout round of the World Cup.
He had a lot more difficult time in his third match, France v. Nigeria, particularly with a French team that seemed determined to push every possible boundary. He used his preferred style of talking to the players and giving them verbal warnings, but it didn’t work as well here.
He gave a yellow card to Blaise Matuidi for a horror challenge on Ogenyi Onazi. Unfortunately, Onazi was taken away with two broken bones in his leg.
It was the only card he showed in the game.
But it was very difficult for referees in the knockout stages to reach for their cards because of the accumulation rules; just two yellow cards would see a player miss a decisive match all the way up to the semifinals. As I’ve discussed before, this hamstrung the referees and led to some bad situations.
While he did not receive another assignment in the tournament, FIFA did him two honors:
- He was one of the 14 referees retained until the end of the World Cup, while more experienced referees were sent home. (Though some very good referees were in the latter list only because of the performance of their teams, who moved on, eliminating the referee from consideration.)
- He was chosen as the fourth official for the first semifinal, refereed by fellow CONCACAF referee Marco Rodriguez of Mexico. He has teamed up with Rodriguez as fourth official before.
Geiger went farther than any American referee has ever gone, and it was clear that FIFA thought very highly of him – quite rightly.
So, let’s talk about the fact that he didn’t receive an assignment for the semifinals or the final. Many Americans were upset by this, but it really never was a possibility for a couple of reasons:
Lack of experience: Look at the guys who were chosen and you see years of high-level tournament – including World Cup – experience. Nicola Rizzoli, who got the final, has an impenetrable tournament CV: with a Europa League Final and Champions League Final to his name, not to mention 10 years of Serie A experience.
Geiger just doesn’t have that. He wasn’t even at any of the 2013 “test run” tournaments that FIFA was using to evaluate referees under tournament conditions this past summer: Confederations Cup, U-20 World Cup, or even the U-17 World Cup (most of the guys at that didn’t make the cut for the World Cup).
Confederation politics and seniority: Refereeing is a lot like ice dancing, in that where you end up has as much (or sometimes more) to do with what you’ve done in the past, and with your seniority within the group, as it does with how you perform.It also has a lot to do with geopolitics.
As a smaller confederation, CONCACAF wasn’t going to get two referees in the last four matches. And the senior ranking CONCACAF referee was Marco Rodriguez, who had World Cup experience behind him. So, when the one match became available, Rodriguez got it and Geiger was given the fourth official slot. Even without the Matuidi incident, it’s still possible Rodriguez would have outranked him, and Rodriguez had a good tournament, too.
So that leads us to 2018.
Rodriguez will retire, and unless some hot shot appears, Geiger will have seniority and World Cup experience on his side. He will be nearing 44, but still under the 45 year limit.
With four more years of experience and FIFA training, and the right support from MLS and PRO, there is no doubt in my mind that Geiger will be a force to be reckoned with in Russia.
Want an American hero in the next World Cup?
Mark Geiger just might be your guy…
Featured photo: Getty