Soccer players aren’t the only ones who spend their life dreaming of emerging from the tunnel at the World Cup. Referees devote just as much time and energy to the grind of qualifying for the world’s biggest stage.
Despite an award-laden career full of officiating some of the world’s most illustrious tournaments, Mark Geiger is still buzzing from his experience in Russia, even though it wasn’t his first rodeo.
“My favorite memories will be meeting, collaborating with and working with the best referees from each continent,” Geiger recently told ussoccer.com. “I will also always remember the excitement of walking out of the tunnel and leading the teams out onto the pitch to the sounds of the incredible crowd and the anthem playing in the stadium.”
Geiger became an MLS referee at the age of 30 in 2004. Following his arrival at the top of the American game, the New Jersey native quickly ascended to new heights, obtaining his FIFA badge in 2008.
In 2011, Geiger was awarded MLS Referee of the year. He repeated that feet in 2014, capping off an impressive season where he also oversaw three matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
In Brazil, Geiger became the first American to officiate a knockout round match when he took charge of France-Nigeria in the Round of 16.
In 2017, Geiger was back refereeing on the world stage, taking the reins of Australia vs. Germany and New Zealand vs. Portugal at the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Based on his success at the World Cup’s dress rehearsal and his consistently excellent performances in MLS, Geiger was invited back to Russia by FIFA for the 2018 World Cup.
According to the FIFA press release, the appointment of the 36 referees and 63 assistant referees “selected to officiate at the 2018 FIFA World Cup was based on each referee’s skills and personality, as well as his level of understanding of football and ability to read both the game and the various tactics employed by teams.”
Yet, the calls Geiger received to go to Russia for the Confederations Cup and subsequent World Cup were not out of the blue. The release on FIFA’s website also stated that “Over the last three years, preparatory seminars have taken place for referees and assistant referees focusing on fair play, protecting players and the image of the game, as well as consistency and uniformity.”
Geiger not only needed to be a top performer in the classroom at these events, but he had to consistently translate those principals into match settings on both the domestic and international stage. It was this consistency that allowed him to join Jair Marrufo, Corey Rockwell and Frank Anderson as the American officials that were tasked with keeping order in Russia.
“We are always learning as a referee,” Geiger noted of these seminars. “We learn about player and team tactics, we learn how to effectively manage players and the game, we learn how to apply the Laws of the Game to both standard and non-routine situations. The referees never have all the answers and it is through the preparation, debriefs and collaboration with others that we continue to grow and make ourselves better.”
Geiger was a busy man at the 2018 World Cup. In addition to being the center referee for Portugal vs. Morocco and South Korea vs. Germany in the group stage as well as for England vs. Colombia in the Round of 16, Geiger also served as the head Video Assistant Referee for five matches, including the third-place match between Belgium and England.
Adding the two matches where the former math teacher held the Assistant Video Assistant Referee #3 position, Geiger helped oversee 10 matches at the world’s most prestigious tournament.
After just over a year and a half in existence, the Video Assistant Referee was used for the first time in a World Cup. Due to his heavy involvement with VAR in MLS, Geiger was always in line to play a crucial role in Russia.
“Even though we use it here in the United States and it is used in a few other countries around the world, all the referees and VARs were learning how to best utilize this tool,” Geiger reflected. “The line of intervention, the situations in which it would be most beneficial to the game, and more importantly, the communication that is most effective between the referee and the VAR were things that were constantly evaluated and practiced leading up to and throughout the entire World Cup.”
Despite VAR being relatively new, Geiger believed it was used to great effect in Russia. “The VARs understood when they should intervene and open up communication with the referee, and a very high bar was maintained throughout the tournament so only clear and obvious errors were corrected.”
“The successful implementation of the VAR has taken the big controversial decisions or scandals out of the game,” Geiger continued. “There will always be discussions about whether a 50/50 referee decision is correct or not. However, the decisions that are clearly wrong, where virtually 100% of the population agrees, are gone.”
The U.S. Soccer Federation would like to congratulate Mark and his fellow World Cup officials for their accomplishments at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and we look forward to their continued success in 2019.