Unlike the rest of the United States, I didn’t get to watch either of Monday’s World Cup Round of 16 matches live.
Living in the coolest neighborhood in the USA comes at a price (yes, I have a day job… and since you asked, I have NO IDEA why I was allowed to move into Silver Lake). You might have read that Anthony Gonzalez, lead musician behind M83 (does programmed music have a lead musician?) just bought the home of my neighbor and longtime friend (that I have yet to meet) Mayor Eric (potty mouth Kings fan) Garcetti.
Proof positive: When properly motivated, thirty-somethings like Mr. Gonzalez can attain an amazing level of success.
Anthony Gonzalez, meet Mark Geiger. Mark Geiger, meet Anthony Gonzalez. Let’s get this World Cup Party started. Cue the electronic music (I prefer “Midnight City”).
ROUND OF 16, Match 53
30 June 2014, 13:00 CET
Estadio Nacional, Brasilia
FRANCE – NIGERIA
Referee: Mark GEIGER (USA)
Assistant Referee 1: Sean Mark HURD (USA)
Assistant Referee 2: Joe FLETCHER (CAN)
Fourth Official: Alireza FAGHANI (IRN)
On Monday evening in the Brazilian capital, American soccer history was made. For the first time, an American referee whistled into the Knockout Rounds of a World Cup. And in evaluating their performance, I will suggest that Mr. Geiger and his crew might not be done just yet… but I wouldn’t go “all in” on that bet.
In their first match back on June 14, Geiger and crew were smooth operators: running well, firm game control, crisp signals, communicating effectively with players and seemingly without a care in the world. Mr. Geiger (literally) covered every square yard of the field – outrunning both the Colombian and Greek midfielders, and his team had arguably one of the best group game performances. What a start!
Then, to no one’s surprise, the atmosphere intensified for their second match five days later, when “the Little Chile that could” sent reigning world champion Spain packing 2-0. This game was certainly less orchestral, more a rock opera, but the officiating performance was again consistent and balanced if not entirely solid. And, yes, I am making a point here.
The Round of 16 is a different animal… one that tests your survival instincts.
As much as we’d love to see it, there just aren’t many perfect officiating performances at this stage of the tournament. We’d all love to say, “I hardly noticed the referee at all,” but when it’s win or go home, there’s a sense of desperation in the air… and that can lead to anything and everything imaginable. Sometimes, the best we can hope for is for an officiating crew to survive and earn another game assignment.
In Monday’s Round of 16 tussle in Brasilia, our North American crew of Mark Geiger, Sean Hurd and Joe Fletcher collectively took a few dings, but in my opinion, their performance was again acceptable by all reasonable standards… and they should very much remain in the running for a Semi-Final match if their stars were to align (more about that later).
OK, my ankle hurts, too… and there’s ample time to discuss that particular decision a bit later on in this article.
Let’s touch on some other important points first:
Both Nigeria and France got a fair shake, and spectators and viewers alike were treated to an enjoyable back-and-forth game that could have gone either way… until we saw Nigeria start to cave in the 70th minute when France had one shot cleared off the line, a second strike the crossbar and a third turned away brilliantly by goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. And then two Nigeria defensive miscues led to two France goals… game over for the Super Eagles… and a resignation from manager Stephen Keshi.
We saw THE BEST pair of Assistant Referees in the tournament in action today, and their work was amazing. Trust me – I have almost been there and almost done nearly that (well, kind of). With the possible exception of one missed foul in his quadrant, Canada’s Joe Fletcher had a perfect game (and he DID NOT need the assistance of Goal Line Technology when he outran the ball to the goal line in the 70th minute). American Assistant Referee Sean Hurd, meanwhile, did have a perfect game. Both had close but correct offside calls -- every decision was correct. Think about that for a minute – I am not saying that every call was reasonably close, so we should cut them some slack and give them the benefit of the doubt. I am saying that replays confirmed that they were 100% spot on with their offside decisions, goal line decisions and touchline decisions... including this CORRECT decision to disallow the apparent goal for Nigeria:
There were absolutely no mystery calls in this game – no decisions seen only by the officials – and there were no questionable penalty kick, ceremonial free kick, corner kick or even throw-in decisions that resulted in undeserved goals or chances at goal. No dives that demanded that players be cautioned… no shameful attempts at massive time wasting… and nothing that even vaguely resembled DOGSO.
Mr. Geiger again interjected his personality to manage players throughout this match, and it worked for him for the most part. It was not the flawless performance we enjoyed in Belo Horizonte, but he was able to call players aside for a stern talking to when needed, and he made his point when he saw this transgression… his body language and stare suggested that “you’re not fooling anyone, and if you do it when the ball is within reach, I will be whistling and pointing to the spot!”
Even with the stakes at new heights (win at all costs?), with few exceptions, opponents showed respect and compassion for each other… and for the integrity of the game. No flopping around. We had boots up in the 18th minute that led to a quick chat by Mr. Geiger and smiles from France’s Paul Pogba and Nigeria’s Victor Moses. Yes, we had a nasty moment off the ball in the 29th minute, when Olivier Giroud felt a twitch in his shoulder and threw an elbow towards John Obi Mikel during a stoppage. Mr. Geiger used his personality to diffuse the situation and prevent escalation… but when the dust settled, he likely realized that a caution to Mr. Giroud would have been the more effective (and technically correct) decision.
Now let’s address the orange card tackle in the game’s 54th minute.
If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know I don’t hold back when I perceive injustice. When you review the challenge for the ball by France’s Blaze Matuidi, try not to judge the tackle in a vacuum – instead, use the SIAPOA guidelines that were introduced at your State Referee Clinic a few years ago (Speed of play and the tackle, Intent, Aggressive Nature, Position of tackler (feet), Opportunity to Play the Ball, Atmosphere of the game)… then ask yourself if this is one of the four or five worst challenges of the tournament (based on red cards issued so far).
To me, it just wasn’t THAT bad… no lunge… no stomp… no wheels-up airborne nonsense. Yes, the contact was made to the ankle (and not merely to the top of the foot... and Mr. Geiger might not have recognized it as such), but I remain convinced that this was not the intent of Mr. Matuidi. And, you know how much I love this part: “the game” tells us that the caution was an acceptable sanction. By “the game,” I mean the reaction of the players from both teams, the coaches and (to a lesser extent), the ESPN crew of Derek Rae and Efan Ekoku. Although it was unfortunate that Ogenyi Onazi was unable to return to the match and was soon thereafter substituted, the caution was immediately accepted and everyone went about their business. That has to mean SOMETHING… right?
Overall, I think the foul selection and presence were acceptable. Fitness level remains excellent, and interjection of personality was very good, if not also excellent. Was the performance of this crew sufficient to warrant another assignment? Hard to say, as performances are often evaluated a bit like figure skating or gymnastics… it was a solid routine, but did Mr. Geiger do ENOUGH to push him near the top of the scores? We’ll see what happens tomorrow and then this weekend.
If the scores are good enough, what (if anything) lies ahead for our North American squad? Hard to say, for several reasons. It’s probably a stretch to think that our boys will work in the quarterfinals (too soon… another game in 5 days is not realistic). That leaves four games, and the Semi-Final match-ups might disqualify our team from consideration… if either Costa Rica or Team USA manages to win two more games. If, however, Germany defeats France (which I see as likely)… we just might see Team Geiger whistle the July 8 Semi-Final. A more likely scenario: our trio might be considered for Netherlands vs. TBD (as long as the TBD isn’t Team USA). And then, there’s always the highly desired Third Place game.
Then again, even though Luiz Suarez might have taken a bite out of CONCACAF’s other trio’s hopes of advancing, we can’t dismiss our colleagues from Mexico, led by referee Marco Rodriguez. And, although I hope I am wrong, we probably aren’t going to see more than one more assignment go to a CONCACAF officiating team.
So, that’s my two cents as of 12:15am Pacific time. What are your thoughts on our most successful trio of game officials in the history of U.S. Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association? Did they spoil the game? Or do they deserve consideration for another game assignment?