Aug 21, 2012

In Defense of Mark Geiger

Referees are the participants in a soccer game that everyone loves to hate.  Let's face it, even the most experienced people in the game usually find something to criticize about referees.  Whether it was Graham Poll and his infamous three yellow card performance in the 2006 World Cup or Howard Webb's complete failure to see Nigel De Jong's kung fu kick to the chest in the 2010 World Cup final, fans, players, coaches, pundits and even other referees always find something to complain about when it comes to refereeing.

There has been a great deal written about the DC United-Philadelphia Union match from Sunday, I have had a chance to sit and think about a few things when it comes to the performance of referee Mark Geiger.  NCB Sports announcer Arlo White repeatedly said the this was Geiger's 100 match as a MLS referee.  Geiger was also the U.S. and CONCACAF representative to the London Olympic Games.  So, let's get one thing off the table right now--Geiger is an experienced referee.  He is not foolish, he is not a bad referee.  

Did Geiger have a bad night?  I would say yes and no.  Everyone is going to look at the final 10-15 minutes of the match and wonder what happened.  There have been all kinds of stats being thrown out regarding Geiger's penchant for reaching for the pocket and pulling the red card.  For example, the aforementioned Arlo White tweeted that Geiger has awarded 10 red cards in 12 MLS matches and two during the Olympics.  Now assuming that is accurate (and I have no reason to doubt White's statistical information) the question becomes what were the circumstances in which Geiger awarded red cards.  Just a couple of quick notes on some of those 10 red cards in 12 MLS games this year:

May 12, 2012--Chivas USA v. L.A. Galaxy--red card awarded to David Junior Lopes for denial of a goal scoring opportunity by use of hands (DOGSO-H).  That is a straight red card and was clearly warranted.

June 16, 2012--Montreal Impact v. Seattle Sounders--Seattle's Jhon Kennedy Hurtado received a straight red for a denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity when Hurtado hacked down Montreal's Collen Warner as Warner was about to enter the penalty area for a strike on goal.  

July 7, 2012--Real Salt Lake v. Portland Timbers.  Portland's Diego Chara received a red card for DOGSO-H when he used his hands to prevent Alvarao Saborio's header from going in the goal in the 73rd minute.

So let's talk about Sunday night's three red card tally.  The scuffle that earned DC United's Branko Boskovic his marching orders was not shown on TV and I haven't seen other video.  But it seems to me that Gieger and his Assistant Referee did talk about it.  What is surprising is that Philadelphia's Roger Torres only got a yellow card.  However, if Boskovic threw a punch, whether he connected or not, is violent conduct and deserves a sending off.  The MLS Box score says that Boskovic got sent off for "Argument."  Dissent is not a red card offensive, but foul and abusive language is.  So perhaps that is what the card was for.  In either event, foul or abusive language or violent conduct, per the Laws of the Game, it is a red card offense.

United's Emilio Dudar was sent off for a harsh challenge late in the game.  Dudar came in from behind, with his studs up.  This was not a case of Dudar clattering into an opponent while on his feet or a reckless studs up challenge from the front or the side.  This "challenge" came from behind.  The Laws of the Game contain three levels of fouls.  

“Careless” means that the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution. No further disciplinary sanction is needed if a foul is judged to be careless
“Reckless” means that the player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent. A player who plays in a reckless manner must be cautioned
“Using excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent. A player who uses excessive force must be sent off 

In the opinion of Geiger, Dudar's foul used excessive force and endangered the safety of his opponent.  Red card.

On commentator decided to pick apart Geiger's performance, casting doubt on Geiger's performance early in the game, particularly the 37th minute yellow card against Sheanon Williams for "Time wasting."  First there is no such think, it is called "Delaying the Restart of Play."  Now, Geiger is pretty good, but while he was correct within the laws of the game, I think he made a mistake here.  He was too quick with the yellow card, but DC United Coach Ben Olsen was standing right behind Williams complaining about it.  Williams was slowly walking down the pitch and took his sweet time take the throw in.  It was a call within the laws of the game. The problem was that the Williams yellow card probably weighed on Geiger's mind, which is probably what Union midfielder was still in the game after the about the 60th minute.  LaHoud committed a harsh tackle in the 44th minute and got booked for it.  But in the second half, Geiger gave LaHoud a number of talks after fouls which were yellow card worthy.  But Geiger kept him in the game.

People talk about common sense among referees and in fact in training, referees are called upon to rely on Law 18--common sense--when officiating games.  But really what Geiger's problem was not a lack of common sense but a lack of consistency.  He was not consistent in his application of the laws of the game.  He could have, and probably should have, sent off  players (LaHoud in particular) a lot sooner.

But here is the defense Geiger and all those people talking the performance of referees.  Unless you have refereed a game, you can have no idea how fast you have to make decisions.  A referee has at best two seconds to see a play, determine if there is a foul, what foul it is, whether to apply advantage, call a foul and whether circumstances warrant the issuance of a card.  A referee must do this dozens of times a game.  A referee does not have the luxury of instant replay, he must rely upon his eyes, his judgment and the assistance of his assistant referees and fourth official.

In all likelihood, the most critical review of Geiger's performance will come from Geiger himself.  He is a professional, he will examine his performance and look for ways to improve.    Before we line up to figuratively lynch Geiger, maybe we should take a long hard look at the players themselves.  In the end, no referee "gives" a red card, every player who is sent off "earned" that red card.

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