What American was in the World Cup of Futbol/Soccer but Not Wearing Red, White and Blue?
At His 'Day Job'
Who Is Mark Geiger?
Like the American team, he has no idea how many matches he will be a part of or if he will make it to the finals. Like the team, he wears a uniform and had to train long and hard all his life to make it to the World Cup. But unlike any self-respecting futbol player anywhere, you will never catch him arguing with the ref – he is the ref.
Mark Geiger, 39, of Beachwood, New Jersey, is not the first American referee to officiate on World Cup pitch, but he’s the first since Brian Hall (Italy-Ecuador and England-Nigeria) in 2002. Hall was the first U.S.-born official in any World Cup going back to 1930. Referees who attained U.S. citizenship have worked only group-stage matches: Vincent Mauro (Belgium-South Korea in 1990), Arturo Angeles (Argentina-Greece in 1994), Esse Baharmast (Spain-Nigeria and Brazil-Norway in 1998).
Geiger is one of only 25 referees selected by FIFA (International Soccer’s governing body) to work the Brazil tournament. His day job was being a high school math teacher until FIFA announced in 2010 that all World Cup referees would be fulltime professionals. This change resulted from a series of obvious errors by the officials in the South Africa event in 2010. Only two of those 30 refs officiated matches as their full-time occupation. For Geiger, that change sounded the death knell on his career as an educator, until he is 45 at least. That is the age limit for FIFA officials.
“I do miss the kids. I do miss the classroom,” said Geiger. “I can always go back in 10 years or so when the refereeing is done.” It is very likely he will do just that. Geiger was not your ordinary math teacher, beyond moonlighting as a U.S. Major League Soccer referee (MLS Referee of the Year 2011), in 2010, 104 teachers were awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. He was one of them.
Early MLS Years
The Original Winger:
Soccer Came Before Teaching
But considering he started officiating matches at the early age of 13, Geiger has more time in soccer than in teaching. He was the oldest of three children and took the recreation league job initially to put some extra money in his pocket. He was already something of an athlete, playing soccer until injuries forced him off his high school team. To the delight of the Toms River South High tract coach, Geiger turned to that sport where soccer players are always welcome because of their endurance. Running also came in handy as a soccer ref. It is not unusual for the average player to run up to seven miles during a soccer match, with the officials running right along beside them. In fact, the U.S. Soccer Federation estimates officials run up to five miles more than the players throughout the course of a match.
Geiger’s resume as a soccer official includes entering the MLS as an independent contractor referee in 2004 (117 games) when that was the only way to work in the league. He also called matches in the 2012 London Olympics, adding international play to his credentials. The next year he was offered a full-time contract as an MLS ref, which led to his being selected as a center referee for the current World Cup.
He found out he’d made it via a 2:30 a.m. email he received last January. That email capped a two-year evaluation process with other Central and North American refs. They attended camps, seminars and qualifying matches as part of their training. Working a tournament in Morocco last December was the final test before selections were made after the New Year. Geiger’s assistants, Canadian Joe Fletcher and Americans Sean Hurd and Eric Boria make up his crew in Brazil.
In preparation for the World Cup, the selected referees went to a 10-day seminar in Brazil earlier this summer. “Certainly calls are going to be scrutinized more, but that’s all part of it. That’s why we’re training as hard as we are to get ready,” Geiger said at that time. “The sport is such a high-energy sport,” he says. “That comes from the players, that comes from the fans. The more passionate the fans, the better the game is going to be. Some people take it too far. But the players feed off of it and I certainly feed off it.”
The former teacher comes out in him during training as well. Geiger said he studies the players on each country’s team to know which management technique is going to work best with each of them during the different matches.
The top ten World Cup 2014 officials will make $50,000 for the two-month tournament. The others make between $35-40,000. Refs only learn which matches they are assigned to work two days prior to that game day. So the officials for the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 13 will be as thrilled and surprised as the two countries playing for the championship. No American official has ever been selected for a match beyond the opening group stage.
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At the 2014 World Cup
Geiger’s first outing was the Group C match between Columbia (3) and Greece (0) in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on June 14. Geiger’s performance earned almost universal praise. No one questioned the three yellow cards he issued: two were late on the challenge and one for a reckless tackle. He showed backbone several times when players tried to finesse him into calling fouls for their theatrics, especially a Greece player’s dive in the box in the 47th minute of the first half. His assistants, Hurd and Fletcher, did not have a single offside called questioned on replays.
As reward for that successful performance, Geiger and his crew were the first staff to be appointed to a second game in group play. [Not to rub it in, but they were selected ahead of English official Howard Webb, known as the best referee in the world. He has not received an assignment as of this date (June 21).] And what an assignment it was: Spain v Chile, June 18, in Estádio Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro. The reigning World Cup champion was knocked out of the tournament (2-0). Soccer pundits called the work of the officials ( Spain received one yellow card to Chile’s two) for that match “an absolute clinic” on how to call a high-profile match. Even the television commentators, who have been known to manufacture excitement for entertainment purposes where there is none, supported every call made by Geiger and his assistants during that critical match.
Geiger was part of the crew for July 24's match that saw perennial threat, Italy, eliminated from The Cup in their loss to Uruguay. He was the fourth official on the referee team headed by Marco Antonio Rodriguez, Mexico. This was the match that drew attention for "the biting incident" when Luis Suarez bit Italian defender Giorgio Chielini and received a nine-game, four-month ban from soccer worldwide. There was no penalty called for the bite during the match as it went unseen by the officials.
A fourth referee takes over if the center ref is unable to finish the match and the senior assistant does not fill that role. Otherwise he steps in as a sideline official. If nothing keeps the three-member crew from fulfilling their duties, the fourth ref oversees substitutions of players and balls. He also is responsible to file a report of any violations that were not seen by the crew during the match.
Some referees have already been sent packing, such as an assistant referee in the Mexico v Cameroon match who called back not one, but two Mexico goals for bogus offside calls.But there was no going home for Geiger and his crew - instead he was the first U.S. referee to be assigned to a World Cup match beyond the group stage. They officiated the win or go home match that saw France eliminate Nigeria (2-0) at the Estádio Nacional in Brasília.
The fifth assisgnment for Geiger in the 2014 World Cup, and his second as a fourth official, was Germany v Brazil in the semi-finals on July 8 in Belo Horizonte. He was once more part of Mexican official Marco Antonio Rodriguez's crew for the first time the two countries had met since the 2002 final in Japan - Brazil won 2-0. Many devotees felt this match would actually determine the World Cup champion for 2014 no matter who plays the winner on July 13. Instead it was a 7-1 routing of the home team in a game that ended with players not even asking for each other's shirts in the traditional exchange. Brazil wanted no momentos, and Germany was merciful enough not to ask for any.
TEAM USA silenced critics by making it out of the "Group of Death". They were eliminated by Germany (1-0), which proved to be an honorable end to their World Cup run after seeing the beating predicted champion Brazil took at the hands of the Germans.
And Americans can also be proud of their referee who went further than any American official has ever gone in the world's most popular tournament in any sport. Futbol! Congratulations Mark Geiger!
Remember the Name. You're Gonna Hear it Again!
All in a Day's Work
Geiger was the center referee for the semi-final match between Mexico (2) v. Panama (1) in the 2015 Gold Cup. The USA defended their 2012 championship in the other semi-final match, losing to Jamaica 2-1.
Many observers have questioned the officiating of the Mexico victory. My observation is that no ref from any of the four countries leading to the championship match should be on the crew calling the fouls and penalties in those contests. It is not fair to the teams, the fans, the sport - or the referees, who should be protected from even the appearance of conflict of interest. But, as in so many other areas of the management of the most popular sport on the planet, "the beautiful game" has an ugly flaw.
Nothing 'Beautiful' About This:
Sources for this hub:
World Soccer Talk
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