When seconds really matter…

Referee Mark Geiger was accosted by angry Chivas USA players immediately after he blew his final whistle ending the encounter between Seattle Sounders FC and Chivas USA yesterday. The Chivas players were incensed by Mr. Geiger’s decision to end the game before the added time actually expired. As it is customary, and required by the Laws of the Game, at the of the final minute of the match, the fourth official indicated that the referee decided to add 3 minutes to the game. In the last minute of the match, with literally only a few seconds to go, Seattle’s goalkeeper, released the ball from his possession and then, in order to prevent the Chivas striker to collect the loose ball, he picked it up again. Of course, given that the subsequent touch of the ball by the Seattle goalkeeper occurred without an intervening touch by another player, the goalkeeper committed the so-called “double touch” infringement and Mr. Geiger would have been required to award an indirect free kick to Chivas USA (fortuitously, we wrote extensively about the double touch infringement and referees’ failure to enforce it in our recent blog here

When Mr. Geiger blew his whistle to end the game, there were still four seconds to go in the match, and given that the indirect free kick for the double touch infringement would have been spotted inside the Sounders’ penalty area, this would have presented a great opportunity to Chivas USA to even the score and snatch at least one point from the jaws of defeat. Inexplicably, however, Mr. Geiger decided to end the match immediately after the infringement was committed and before the full time has run out (see 4:45 into the video highlights below).

Under the Laws of the Game, the referee “acts as timekeeper and keeps a record of the match.” The Laws of the Game also provide that:

Allowance is made in either period for all time lost through:

  • Substitutions
  • assessment of injury to players
  • removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment
  • wasting time
  • any other cause

The allowance for time lost is at the discretion of the referee

Given these provisions, Mr. Geiger was allowed – even required – to add time to the match to compensate for the time lost.

Crucially, however, in its interpretations of the Laws of the Game, IFAB stated that “the fourth official indicates the minimum additional time decided by the referee at the end of the final minute of each period of play. The announcement of the additional time does not indicate the exact amount of time left in the match. The time may be increased if the referee considers it appropriate but never reduced.”

These interpretations make two things crystal clear: (1) the fourth official indicates the minimum additional time and (2) that this minimum additional time cannot be shortened by the referee. Thus, while the referee has full discretion to determine what, if any, minimum time he should add to the match, once such determination is made he cannot reduce it. The only thing that he may do after that point is to increase it.

Mr. Geiger’s decision to end the match prematurely was truly unfortunate and, because we believe he is one of the best MLS referees whom we followed and wrote about on a number of occasions, highly out of character for him. We are mindful of “practical” refereeing considerations and that some will argue that there were only four seconds to go so no one was truly harmed. We are sure, however, that Chivas USA players and fans would vigorously dispute this assertion. And, given that the infringement was committed so closely to the Sounder’s goal, with good reason. More importantly, we find such clear violations of the Laws of the Game simply unacceptable. The fact that the game was ended at the time when the indirect free kick, if awarded and allowed to be taken, presented a great opportunity to Chivas USA to score a goal and possibly salvage a point from the game only serves to highlight the egregious nature of Mr. Geiger’s decision to end the match prematurely.

Let us know what you think and join a discussion on our Referee Forum.

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: