FIFA council approves VAR for World Cup 2018

FIFA has finally and fully approved video review to help referees at the World Cup. The last step toward giving match officials high-tech help in Russia was agreed to on Friday by FIFA's ruling council chaired by President Gianni Infantino. The decision came two weeks after FIFA's rule-making panel voted to write video assistant referees (VAR) into the laws of football. That landmark move still left competition organisers to opt to use video review in their games, and FIFA's ruling committee had to sign off on the World Cup decision. FIFA Council member Reinhard Grindel wrote on his Twitter account that clear communication will be important to make the system a success - and was promised on Friday by Infantino.
Referees can call on VAR to review and overturn 'clear and obvious errors' plus 'serious missed incidents' involving goals, penalty awards, red cards, and mistaken identity. Infantino acknowledged two weeks ago that VAR was currently 'not perfect' after the rules panel, known as IFAB, met in Zurich. In 18 months of trials worldwide - including at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, Bundesliga, and Serie A - reviews have often been slower than promised and communication has been unclear in the stadium. Controversy has been stirred even by the most experienced VAR officials who have handled many more games than most referees who will work at the 64-game World Cup. A total of 36 referees, plus their teams of assistants, are being trained by FIFA for World Cup duty and many come from countries which do not use video review in domestic games. FIFA will now look to sign a World Cup sponsor for video review at the June 14-July 15 tournament.

Source: Daily Mail

Refereeing in the genes for Borjas

The careers of many female international footballers have started out the same way: by playing alongside boys because there were no girls' teams available. Melissa Borjas is no exception, even if her role in the game is rather different now; she is a referee, not a player. "One of my uncles was an assistant referee, so I have it in my genes so to speak," she told with a smile. "I used to just play football for fun, to enjoy the moment and chill out with my friends. But my uncle started to ask if I wanted to try refereeing, saying that I might like it." The fact that Borjas became the first female referee to officiate a match in the Honduran top flight – La Liga Nacional de Futbol Profesional de Honduras – shows just how right he was. "It was a really big gesture from my federation and the refereeing department to give me the opportunity," the 31-year-old said. "Before I started my 'domestic' career, I was already a FIFA referee and had international experience at FIFA tournaments, CONCACAF tournaments and international friendly games - but nothing in my own country." That all began to change thanks to the influence of social media platforms: "People began to ask online: 'Why is Melissa so important outside Honduras but not at home? You have to give her a match. Then we'll see what the difference is and why she's so great in the international game.' So the federation gave me the opportunity and I got my game. Afterwards, there was no doubt among my colleagues, instructors and on social media that I could stay in the top division".
Borjas' hard work has also paved the way for other women to follow in her footsteps into refereeing, even if she does not consider herself to be a role model. "I don't like being the centre of attention," the likeable Honduran said modestly. "But if I can involve more women in refereeing, so be it. For me, that's great." She much prefers focusing her attention on her own role as a referee and the decisions she has to make out on the pitch. For as is the case among all officials, Borjas constantly needs to prove herself time and again. "There are always some players that try to intimidate me," she said, smiling. "I'm never disrespectful to players. I just stop talking, as if to say: I'm not discussing things with you anymore. I'm a respectful person and you're not.' Strangely enough, when I stop talking they start to figure out how they should behave." Borjas is also well aware that her fitness levels are subject to intense scrutiny: "When I make a difficult decision they say: 'Hey Melissa, you were in midfield so how can you make a decision for something that happened inside the penalty area?' So I reply: 'I wasn't in midfield, I'm right here behind you. Why do you think you have to question my decision? Do you think I'm not fit enough?' Sometimes referees are fitter than the players. It's funny. Obviously men and women are different but it always comes down to your fitness first and foremost. We prepare for that. Just look at some of the exercises we do at our seminars. It's tough. But you have to be ready." Being prepared for the next challenge is indeed crucial, and is a habit that will stand Borjas in good stead ahead of her next aim of refereeing at the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019. "I'll never forget my first game at a World Cup. It was at Canada 2015, Ecuador against Japan. It was a really nice surprise to receive the appointment for the World Cup. I'll never forget that match because I was the first Honduran referee – male or female – to take charge of a World Cup game".

Source: FIFA

Prospective World Cup ARs tested in Dubai

The Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) has announced on Twitter that all four North American assistant referees (Frank Anderson, Corey Rockwell, Joe Fletcher and Ian Anderson) passed their fitness test in Dubai. 
The seminar for prospective World Cup assistant referees is taking place in the UAE, from 12-16 March 2018.

Source: PSRA

UEFA Europa League – Round of 16 (Second Leg)

15 March 2018

Viktoria Plzeň – Sporting CP
Referee: Tobias Stieler (GER, photo)
Assistant Referee 1: Mike Pickel (GER)
Assistant Referee 2: Jan Seidel (GER)
Additional AR 1: Marco Fritz (GER)
Additional AR 2: Patrick Ittrich (GER)
Fourth Official: Christian Gittelmann (GER)
Referee Observer: Nikolai Levnikov (RUS)

Lokomotiv Moskva – Atlético de Madrid

Referee: Artur Soares Dias (POR)
Assistant Referee 1: Rui Tavares (POR)
Assistant Referee 2: Paulo Santos (POR)
Additional AR 1: Hugo Miguel (POR)
Additional AR 2: João Pinheiro (POR)
Fourth Official: Bruno Rodrigues (POR)
Referee Observer: Michel Piraux (BEL)

Athletic Club – Olympique de Marseille
Referee: Anthony Taylor (ENG)
Assistant Referee 1: Gary Beswick (ENG)
Assistant Referee 2: Adam Nunn (ENG)
Additional AR 1: Craig Pawson (ENG)
Additional AR 2: Stuart Attwell (ENG)
Fourth Official: Constantine Hatzidakis (ENG)
Referee Observer: Alexandru Deaconu (ROU)

FC Zenit – RB Leipzig
Referee: Daniele Orsato (ITA)
Assistant Referee 1: Riccardo Di Fiore (ITA)
Assistant Referee 2: Lorenzo Manganelli (ITA)
Additional AR 1: Luca Banti (ITA)
Additional AR 2: Antonio Damato (ITA)
Fourth Official: Alessandro Giallatini (ITA)
Referee Observer: Geórgios Bíkas (GRE)

Dynamo Kyiv – Lazio
Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano (ESP)
Assistant Referee 1: Ángel Nevado Rodríguez (ESP)
Assistant Referee 2: Diego Barbero Sevilla (ESP)
Additional AR 1: Carlos Del Cerro Grande (ESP)
Additional AR 2: Ricardo De Burgos Bengoetxea (ESP)
Fourth Official: Roberto Díaz Pérez (ESP)
Referee Observer: Konrad Plautz (AUT)

Arsenal – AC Milan
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (SWE)
Assistant Referee 1: Mathias Klasenius (SWE)
Assistant Referee 2: Daniel Wärnmark (SWE)
Additional AR 1: Andreas Ekberg (SWE)
Additional AR 2: Stefan Johannesson (SWE)
Fourth Official: Mehmet Culum (SWE)
Referee Observer: Miroslav Tulinger (CZE)

FC Salzburg – Borussia Dortmund
Referee: Benoît Bastien (FRA)
Assistant Referee 1: Hicham Zakrani (FRA)
Assistant Referee 2: Frédéric Haquette (FRA)
Additional AR 1: Benoît Millot (FRA)
Additional AR 2: Nicolas Rainville (FRA)
Fourth Official: Julien Pacelli (FRA)
Referee Observer: Rune Pedersen (NOR)

Olympique Lyonnais – CSKA Moskva
Referee: Robert Madden (SCO)
Assistant Referee 1: David McGeachie (SCO)
Assistant Referee 2: Alastair Mather (SCO)
Additional AR 1: Andrew Dallas (SCO)
Additional AR 2: Donald Robertson (SCO)
Fourth Official: Alan Mulvanny (SCO)
Referee Observer: Vítor Melo Pereira (POR)

CONCACAF Champions League – Quarter-finals (Second Leg)

13 March 2018
Tigres UANL – Toronto FC
Referee: Hector Rodriguez (HON, photo)
Assistant Referee 1: Walter Lopez (HON)
Assistant Referee 2: Geovany García (SLV)
Fourth Official: Bryan Lopez (GUA)

New York Red Bulls – Club Tijuana
Referee: Melvin Matamoros (HON)
Assistant Referee 1: Jesus Tabora (HON)
Assistant Referee 2: Douglas Bermudez (SLV) 

Fourth Official: Hector Martinez (HON)

14 March 2018
Chivas Guadalajara – Seattle Sounders
Referee: Oscar Moncada (HON)
Assistant Referee 1: Melvin Cruz (HON)
Assistant Referee 2: Oscar Velásquez (HON) 

Fourth Official: Raúl Castro (HON)

Tauro FC – Club America
Referee: Walter Lopez (GUA)
Assistant Referee 1: Gerson Lopez (GUA)
Assistant Referee 2: Hermenerito Leal (GUA)
Fourth Official: Mario Escobar (GUA)

Where will the VAR centre be located during World Cup 2018?

Former three-time World Cup referee Oscar Ruiz, currently member of the CONMEBOL Referees Committee, spoke to Planeta Fútbol of Antena 2 about the implementation of the VAR at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the preparation of the Colombian referees at the seminars in Qatar and Dubai. "Qatar has had several seminars for referees, they promote the sport a lot, not only in refereeing, but in various modalities. I was in Qatar for a month, where there were seminars for the candidates to the men’s and women’s World Cups", said the former Colombian referee. "In the Emirates, there will be another seminar for the candidate referees that will be divided into two groups. The first group that will travel are the CAF, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL delegations, then the AFC, OFC and UEFA. For Colombia, a team headed by Wilmar Roldan and the assistants Alexander Guzmán and Cristian de la Cruz travelled last Friday, 9 March, to allow time to prepare for the fitness test for the World Cup in Russia", said Ruiz. "The VAR in the World Cup in Russia will work in a communication center from Germany, there will also be an AVAR, which are the assistants in the short list that will be behind the screens. They will have direct communication with the referee to make a decision and stop the game when needed", said the 48-year-old former referee. On the other hand, Ruiz spoke about the arrival of the VAR to Colombia. "With time it will appear, not only in Colombia but in important leagues, but it is a process, which not only involves human material, but also technology. There must be a communication center with technical guarantees for the development of the VAR that is not done from one day to the next day; there is a protocol that must be followed. South America is one of the confederations that went ahead with the implementation", concluded Ruiz, who refereed at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups. (Source: Antena 2)
In Bundesliga, the video assistant referees sit for all matches at a specialized centre in Koln. "There are no plans for VARs to be located in Germany", said FIFA. President Gianni Infantino said after the general approval of the introduction of video assistant referees by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) at the beginning of March in Zurich that the VARs will work at the World Cup in Moscow, where the referees will have their headquarters during the tournament. The FIFA Council will meet on Friday in Bogotá and will advise on the deployment of VAR for the World Cup. A consent of the committee, according to the DFB President Reinhard Grindel, is considered safe. The FIFA boss is a big supporter of the video campaign; however, the prerequisite for the approval is that Infantino "gives us the confidence that the workshops and technical preparations are sufficient for the referees to properly implement the requirements of the IFAB protocol", said Grindel. "It is also important that the referee teams are composed in such a way that clear communication is guaranteed", emphasized Grindel. The Confederations Cup last year in Russia - as well as the Bundesliga - had some breakdowns. (Source: TZ)

UEFA Champions League – Round of 16 (Second Leg, II)

13 March 2018
AS Roma – Shakhtar Donetsk
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (ESP, photo)
Assistant Referee 1: Roberto Alonso Fernández (ES)
Assistant Referee 2: Juan Yuste Jiménez (ESP)
Additional AR 1: Juan Martínez Munuera (ESP)
Additional AR 2: José Sánchez Martínez (ESP)
Fourth Official: Raúl Cabañero Martínez (ESP)
Referee Observer: Haim Jakov (ISR)

Manchester United – Sevilla FC
Referee: Danny Makkelie (NED)
Assistant Referee 1: Mario Diks (NED)
Assistant Referee 2: Hessel Steegstra (NED)
Additional AR 1: Kevin Blom (NED)
Additional AR 2: Jochem Kamphuis (NED)
Fourth Official: Jan de Vries (NED)
Referee Observer: Marc Batta (FRA)

14 March 2018
Beşiktaş – Bayern München
Referee: Michael Oliver (ENG)
Assistant Referee 1: Stuart Burt (ENG)
Assistant Referee 2: Simon Bennett (ENG)
Additional AR 1: Martin Atkinson (ENG)
Additional AR 2: Andre Marriner (ENG)
Fourth Official: Lee Betts (ENG)
Referee Observer: Manuel Díaz Vega (ESP)

FC Barcelona – Chelsea

Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN)
Assistant Referee 1: Jure Praprotnik (SVN)
Assistant Referee 2: Robert Vukan (SVN)
Additional AR 1: Matej Jug (SVN)
Additional AR 2: Slavko Vinčič (SVN)
Fourth Official: Tomaž Klančnik (SVN)
Referee Observer: Herbert Fandel (GER)

Greece: Referee Kominis awarded a goal two hours after pitch invasion by gun-carrying PAOK president

The Greek Super League has been indefinitely suspended after PAOK Salonika's president invaded the pitch with a gun during a match on Sunday.
Fernando Valera had scored for PAOK in the 90th minute before referee Giorgios Kominis appeared to rule it out for offside - sparking a mass pitch invasion.Joined by a group of imposing bodyguards, PAOK president Ivan Savvidis entered the field twice, the second time without a jacket that clearly showed a gun in a holster on his waistband. According to reports in Greece, Savvidis had 'attacked' AEK official Vasilis Dimitriadis and told the referee "you are a dead man".
Fans waited inside the Toumba Stadium waiting for the game to be restarted before initial reports that the game had been abandoned - leaving the result to stand at 0-0. Invaders were eventually cleared from the pitch and supporters told to leave.
However, referee Kominis later awarded Valera his goal, giving PAOK a 1-0 win.PAOK announced the news on social media, writing: "The game ended with a score of 1-0." AEK Athens also corroborated the news on their official website - although their anger with the result was clear. A report on the site read: "The match was interrupted when referee Kominis correctly did not score Varela's goal, as assistant [Kostas] Pontikis pointed out. Then followed the invasion of Ivan Savvidi's playground with his personal guard... and the withdrawal of the referees in the changing rooms. After about two hours and after the referee continually changed the decision to award or not the goal, he concluded that the goal counts and decided to stop the match." The PAOK win leaves them two points off of Greek Super League leaders AEK with five games to go.
Deputy Sports Minister Giorgios Vasiliadis announced the abandonment of all top-flight matches on Monday after a meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. "It won't start again unless there is a clear framework, agreed by all, to move forward with conditions and rules," he added. FIFA and UEFA condemned the incident but said any disciplinary measures "fall under the jurisdiction of the Greek FA".

Source: The Sun / BBC

UEFA Youth League – Quarter-finals

13-14 March 2018

FC Barcelona – Atletico de Madrid

Referee: Robert Madley (ENG, photo)
Assistant Referee 1: Harry Lennard (ENG)
Assistant Referee 2: Ian Hussin (ENG)
Fourth Official: David Medie Jimenez (ESP)
Referee Observer: Bernardino Gonzalez (ESP)

Tottenham Hotspur – FC Porto

Referee: Georgi Kabakov (BUL)
Assistant Referee 1: Diyan Valkov (BUL)
Assistant Referee 2: Martin Margaritov (BUL)
Fourth Official: John Brooks (ENG)
Referee Observer: Gerard Perry (IRL)

Manchester City – Liverpool FC
Referee: Davide Massa (ITA)
Assistant Referee 1: Stefano Alassio (ITA)
Assistant Referee 2: Alessandro Lo Cicero (ITA)
Fourth Official: Tom Nield (ENG)
Referee Observer: William Young (SCO)

Real Madrid – Chelsea FC
Referee: Daniel Siebert (GER)
Assistant Referee 1: Markus Häcker (GER)
Assistant Referee 2: Lasse Koslowski (GER)
Fourth Official: Valentín Pizarro Gómez (ESP)
Referee Observer: Nuno Castro (POR)

Geiger’s “thing”: “He vomits before every game. If it is a big game, he might vomit twice."

"Refs are remembered exclusively for our bad calls" is the Tao of Mark Geiger, who performs a ritual before every game he works. He calls this ritual his "thing". "I have a fear of failure", he says. "I think most guys do. It's just morphed into something that happens now". He can feel it coming on hours before kickoff, when he's packing his bag in his hotel room. A trigger, a little twinge of anxiety, fires when he showers before catching a shuttle to the game. This evening, at the new stadium in Atlanta, about 20 minutes before the pregame procession of players from Atlanta United and Philadelphia Union, he's trying not to think about the ritual. He's trying to focus on the task at hand.
"We need to talk about the game", he says to his crew. He sits at his locker in a small room shared with four other officials - two assistant refs, a fourth official, and one more who will sit in a booth watching monitors for instant-replay review. Together they've already walked the pitch - another trigger - making sure that the lines on the field are straight, the goals are standard size, and the nets are free of holes. It's a late-season Major League Soccer game, not particularly prominent on the schedule. Geiger's left knee bounces up and down as he talks. "It's hard to say what we'll get because Atlanta is playing very well at home, lighting it up," he says. "If Philly loses tonight and Red Bulls win, then they are out. At this point, we have to assume they're playing for their jobs. We may see an intensity out there. Last weekend there were a lot of weird results. Teams won that you wouldn't expect. So let's be waiting for the unexpected tonight. Talk to me", Geiger continues. "Give me valid info. Yellow card. Red card. Tell me, 'Red, red, red!' The time to give me an opinion is when I ask for it. Instead, give me what you're seeing. Studs up, whatever info you have. 'PK, PK, PK!' or 'Outside the box!' Gooch is Gooch," says Geiger. "He does not have the speed to keep up with Atlanta's front line. So I wouldn't be surprised if Atlanta breaks on through with a few runs. It's going to be quick! Let's be ready for that. Let's also be ready to deal with time wasting. Philly needs three points, but they might be content to hang back". He looks down at his feet for a moment, then quickly around the room. He decides there's nothing else to add. "If this game goes like it should on paper, then we'll be fine," he concludes. The video ref, Ekaterina Koroleva, who flew in this morning on a red-eye from Seattle, heads upstairs to her bank of monitors. The other refs talk casually. One assistant ref, a criminal justice student named Matt Nelson, complains that there are too many service dogs on airplanes these days. Gamble believes Delta has a better frequent-flier program than United. Geiger pulls on a pair of yellow wristbands embossed with the Champions League logo. He thinks about one of the first games he ever reffed, where a player almost suffered a serious injury because of a bad call. He thinks about another game here in Atlanta, extremely high profile, where everything went haywire and Geiger lost his confidence for the whole next year. He knows the trigger is about to fire, so he stands up. "Okay", he says. "I'm just going to do my thing". Geiger exits. Morgante, the assistant ref, explains what's happening. "He vomits", Morgante says. "Every game. If it's a particularly big game, like when we were in Russia, he might vomit twice".
Geiger is a 43-year old former math teacher from Pine Beach, New Jersey. He started refereeing soccer games in grade school and stuck with it when he realized the whistle let him stay in the game longer than athletic ability ever could. He reffed his first Major League Soccer game in 2004. He worked his first international game four years later. In 2013, he quit his teaching gig to referee full-time. He has become the most accomplished referee the United States has ever produced. Geiger was MLS Referee of the Year in 2011 and 2014. He reffed the U-20 World Cup final in 2011. He reffed a CONCACAF Champions League final in Mexico. In Brazil, he became the only American to ever ref in the knockout round of a World Cup (he also worked as the fourth official when Germany destroyed the hosts 7-1). He's been on the whistle for finals of the MLS Cup and the US Open Cup. In 2014, he won CONCACAF Referee of the Year. Last summer, he and Morgante traveled to Russia to work the Confederations Cup. Geiger will be returning to work the 2018 World Cup. Geiger speaks in clear, precise, almost basic words, as if he's still teaching algebra to a classroom of students. He tends to lean toward the listener, showing that he's engaged in the conversation. Pierluigi Collina, the Italian referee with famously expressive eyes, is a role model. When Geiger calls in his crew to clasp hands in the center of the room, he looks at each of them, indicating his focus. He's right here, in the moment. "All right, you guys? You ready? Keep it simple. Be patient." The eight retractable petals that form the roof are closed, to Geiger's relief. "It's hot on the field," he says. "Even at night. If they ask me, the roof will be closed all the time." The refs step onto the pitch first, streams of fire dancing around them. Back in the locker room, after both teams had presented their uniforms for inspection, a stadium official warned Geiger there would be fire but said not to be afraid - it's all safe. "That's simply not true," admitted the referee liaison after he left. "It's hot. It's scary. In the first game, the fireworks lady used four times the amount of explosives she's authorized to use." The flames illuminate 43,000 Atlanta fans, another amazing turnout for a team in its first year of existence. This pleases Geiger. "The more passionate the fans, the better the game will be," he says. A former Braves outfielder pounds a golden spike in the supporters section, the new franchise's attempt to create a tradition. Red lights swirl overhead on a huge circular screen, the largest video board in the world. Geiger, standing just off the midfield circle, points an arm at Philadelphia's goalkeeper, blows his whistle, and starts the game. When Geiger, as a math teacher, set up his classroom in the morning, he would recall how he felt as a student. Sitting at his desk, trying to focus on the lesson, he might find himself distracted by small things that were out of place, perhaps on the chalkboard. "The board couldn't have streak marks," he recalls. "I would sit there and I would fixate on that streak mark." So when he erased the board as a teacher, he made sure each little streak was gone. "Everything needs to be in its place; everything needs to be in sync." That feeling - which Geiger reluctantly acknowledges as a strain of OCD - is relevant to how he calls a soccer game. If he's doing his job well, he's invisible, erased. Only when he screws up do streaks show. "We're the opposite of players," he says. "They are remembered for what they do right, and their mistakes are usually forgiven. We are remembered exclusively for our bad calls". He stays mainly in the center of the field. When he moves, it is along an invisible diagonal line, partly reacting to the play and partly anticipating what will happen next. The ball never leaves his line of sight. This is objective number one: follow the ball. As for the rules, he insists there's not much he needs to know. Only 17 laws constitute FIFA's newly streamlined manual. But each law contains nuances and room for judgment calls. Interpreting the laws is more complicated than knowing the difference between wrong and right. There's an art to it. "You know in your gut that it's a foul," Geiger explains. "So much of what we do is refereeing with our gut. That's the emotion. Whether it's a yellow card or a red card, these are gut reactions on some of this stuff-on how intense the foul was, how much force was used. You know if there's any malice in it. That's all coming from our emotions." Geiger is the one ref on the field who gets to make judgment calls. For Morgante and Nelson running the lines, it's binary, fact-based refereeing. Nelson, the assistant studying criminal justice, prefers it that way. "I'm introverted," he says. "I don't want the limelight on me at all." Geiger finds that odd. It's calmer, easier for the main referee, he says. He can fudge things. He can sell his calls. "Don't you realize that half of what we're doing out there is theater?" Geiger explained to Nelson the previous night while eating dinner at their airport hotel. "I'll even tell the players, 'Okay, calm down. I'm going to use my arms now and make a show of things. Let's move forward.'" In the van ride to the stadium, Geiger talked about a college showcase he's been asked to work. He'd rather not, he explained. Oh, he'll go for a day or two to mentor young referees, but the games will be so dull. In college showcases, all the players are on their best behavior. Nobody commits fouls. Geiger prefers a crunching tackle or two. He likes it when there's emotion and energy. This game, despite the goals, despite how happy the Atlanta fans are, has been perhaps too clean. There hasn't been a card yet. Even with Martino's benign theater on the sideline, there's no controversy. Geiger blows twice on his whistle. Not a demanding first 45. "When you do your job well, no one notices that you are there," he says after returning to the locker room at halftime. "They talk about the great tackle, the sharp goal, the diving save. When they do talk about you, that's rough".
The most talked-about moment is easy to find. Google his name and it comes right up. "Oh yeah," he acknowledges. It's right there. "Security needs to escort referee Mark Geiger and his team off the field after Mexico vs. Panama"; "Overseas Opinions of MLS Waver after Mark Geiger Gold Cup Debacle"; "All Hell Broke Loose in the Panama-Mexico Game and It Was Entirely the Ref's Fault"; "Gold Cup Match Fixed, Panama Official Says". After the game, which took place two years ago here in Atlanta, a newspaper in Panama ran a front-page illustration of Geiger fanning $100 bills, suggesting he was paid to throw the match. The headline, half in Spanish: "¡F---ing Árbitro!" All in Spanish is a YouTube video entitled "Mark Geiger, un enemigo público de futbol". There are so many videos. Slow-motion, frames frozen, Geiger's calls analyzed as obsessively as the Zapruder film. It was a Gold Cup semi-final, the old Georgia Dome packed with so many green-clad fans it could have been Estadio Azteca. Midway through the first half, Geiger delighted the crowd with a tough call on Panama, a red card that even Mexico's coach said "no era penal." Few would have bet on a shorthanded Panama beating the most popular team in CONCACAF, the federation's cash cow, the crowd favorite. Yet Panama shut Mexico down and, somehow, took a lead into the 88th minute. Mighty Mexico looked like it would miss out on the final. Until Geiger made himself anything but invisible. With time running out and the ball bouncing into Panama's 18-yard box, defender Roman Torres tried to bicycle kick the ball up field and out of harm's way. He failed to connect with the ball in large part because a Mexican forward had pushed him. As he fell backward onto the turf, Torres landed partially on the ball. Geiger called him for a handball - immediately, forcefully and clearly, as referees are instructed. Don't hesitate. Sell the whistle. Geiger did not call a foul on the Mexican player who pushed Torres. Nor did he allow that by landing on the ball, which Torres wasn't able to see as he fell, any contact with his arm had been inadvertent. Penalty kick for Mexico. Andrés Guardado converted and Mexico enjoyed a stay of execution-as did the tournament's organizers, who wanted Mexico and its fans' money in the final.' In the extra time that followed, Geiger awarded Mexico still one more penalty kick and the game. This call was defensible; it was a foul. But it was also Geiger's third major call of the game against Panama. Without those calls, Mexico would have lost. Instead, Mexico advanced.
The Panamanian team, including coaches and bench players, rushed at Geiger. Initially he walked away, trying to look calm. Then he broke into a run, his arm up near his face in a defensive posture. "It's game over and they're chasing Mark Geiger", said JP Dellacamera, up in the broadcasting booth. "That's gonna really, really put this game on an uglier note than we already had. You cannot charge the referee like that. You cannot". Color commentator Tony Meola: "Oh man, this game needs a serious review". Dellacamera: "Everything, right? Top to bottom". "All over. I don't even know where to start", concluded Meola, who added that he was sympathetic to the anger at Geiger. "Panamanian players, I get it". In their locker room, those Panamanian players posed with a banner calling CONCACAF officials ladrones ("thieves"). Team executives called for the CONCACAF Referees Committee to resign. Fox Broadcasting's officiating expert, Joe Machnik, analyzing the penalty that saved Mexico and extended the game, sided against the referee. "What I see here is the Panamanian defender actually being fouled", he said, "and falling backwards and then making inadvertent contact with the ball. There's no intent here. And this is a very, very harsh decision". Panama's head coach said afterward that he thought of retiring from soccer on the spot. "I was saying to myself, 'I don't want to carry on any longer in football because this was a vile robbery'". In postgame articles, even respected members of the American press danced up to the edge of calling Geiger corrupt. "I wouldn't know", Geiger says now, two years later. "I never read any articles about the game. I watched the film afterwards like always, once". But then he moved on-or tried to. Geiger says he doesn't like to talk about the Panama game. Yet back in Atlanta now, on a business trip spanning three days, Geiger brings up the Panama game four times, spontaneously, without prompting. At lunch with his crew at the airport hotel before tonight's game, while discussing video assistant referee (VAR) and its implementation league-wide, Geiger said if there had been VAR in that Gold Cup, then he would have been able to correct his mistakes; Panama would have won; and, in his words, "I wouldn't have lost a year of my life". Video review started internationally in the summer of 2017, at the Confederations Cup that Geiger worked. To fans watching on TV, it felt like a nuisance. Reviews crashed the flow of play. Goal celebrations deflated into awkward, often extended pauses. The calls that were overturned weren't necessarily clear-cut. Yet the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), which Geiger and all MLS referees work for, is pro-VAR, calling replay reviews "a crucial development for the sport". The organization hired retired World Cup referee Howard Webb to oversee VAR's rollout. "Throughout my career, we've had so many tools that have come along", he says. Flags that beep and vibrate. Headsets so refs can talk to each other. "And now this. It's just another tool that we use". Six minutes into the second half, Atlanta forward Héctor Villalba slots a shot past Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. From his position just inside the penalty area, Geiger looks over to his assistant referee, Matt Nelson, and sees that the offside flag is down. Geiger points his arm toward the center circle, indicating an Atlanta score. "GOOOOOOOOAL" circles around the huge 360-degree scoreboard. Martino and his assistant coaches hug. An announcer bellows Villalba's name despite the fact that, on the field, Philadelphia has already put the ball back in play with a free kick. Villalba didn't score. The goal was overturned upon video review. "That was the quickest turnaround from calling for VAR to overturning the goal to getting the ball back in play," Nelson will say later. As soon as the shot went in the net, Geiger was thinking to himself that the player who assisted the goal, Josef Martínez, had been offside. With Nelson's flag down, Geiger was required to motion for a goal, but he was already confident the call would be overturned. "That's coming back", he thought. Up in her booth, Koroleva almost immediately confirmed Geiger's gut instinct. Offside, she told him - not by much, but conclusively. Geiger blew his whistle and signaled the indirect free kick, hurrying the ball back into play. "The game happens so fast, right?" Geiger will say afterward. "Tackles happen so quickly, and we can't physically see it all, all the time. VAR is really able to slow it down, get that point of contact right from the video. They can freeze-frame it and tell me definitively this person is in an offside position". Morgante, the linesman, insists teamwork is one of Geiger's strengths, that he assembles good crews and then empowers everyone. But it also seems as though maybe it reduces Geiger's role. Is he the one making the call? Who's in charge? "Even with VAR, ultimately, everything falls on my shoulders", Geiger says. "Even with replay, even with linesmen, I still am the one making the call. I can choose to overrule her or not follow her suggestion. That's important. Because the referee needs to be seen, the person on the field. The coaches and the players don't want somebody in a booth that they can't see making the decision on the field". There was a card handed out in the second half, a yellow for Atlanta's Josef Martínez - the player who had been offside earlier - for "unsporting behavior". But in the locker room afterward, the only talk of the game concerns the offside call, and then only in passing. "My whole problem is I overthink things," says Nelson, the linesman who'd kept his flag down. "Yep", Geiger says. "Yep. You're right". "It's because the one time you raise the flag and you're wrong, you're fucked, you know?" Nelson says. "I knew it was going to VAR, so I didn't call it. But that's why I've gotten into trouble over the years. I've overthought my decisions". "Amen", says Geiger. "If you follow your gut, you're going to be right most of the time".
In the year after the Panama-Mexico game, Geiger wasn't living out of his car or anything. He shaved. He ate regular meals. He still refereed games, MLS and international. But he didn't feel assured on the pitch. It took a long time for him to feel normal again. "I don't think I was desperate", he says. "But that game was a really, really bad game. And from there I lost my confidence. I found myself second-guessing my decisions. Maybe I'd hesitate to blow the whistle, wondering if I was sure of the call. We call it refereeing on eggshells. It's like a player, right? When a player has confidence, every shot is on frame. Every touch is spot-on, every single time. With referees, it's the same thing. We have to have confidence. When we call fouls, we need to feel that we're accurate. When we make a penalty decision, we have to be sure. As time goes on, as you make more and more positive, correct, big decisions, you get the confidence back". Last year, Geiger flew 9,000 miles to Wellington, New Zealand, to call the first leg of the World Cup qualifying playoff between the All Whites and Peru. The assignment is a high honor, a sign of his solid standing with FIFA. Yet even now, two years on, newspapers in Lima will print advance articles about Geiger, the "polemical ref." They'll attach pictures of Panamanian players yelling at him. It's like that match is his permanent tattoo. "Everyone remembers the one great goal that players score, and tend to forget about a player's mistakes", he says. "It's the opposite for us. If you've been around this game long enough, you will encounter this type of situation, unfortunately. It's the life we live. It's become a part of me". Morgante whacks his game boots over a trash can, shaking off the FieldTurf's black rubber pellets. Delta's frequent-flier program again comes up. Nelson, calling out from the showers, complains that there's no hot water in this brand-new, billion-dollar-plus stadium. Compensating somewhat is the spread of spaghetti and meatballs, salad, and soft sugar cookies. Morgante, forking a meatball, asks if anyone is interested in a night out in Buckhead. Geiger says no but that he'll have a beer back at the hotel. It's the usual choice. The assistants ref only one or two games a month. Geiger usually works a couple more games and a few three-day clinics each month with PRO, the referees’ organization (he also spends days working with young refs coming up in New Jersey and also in Maryland, where one of his own mentors lives). He requests whom he wants on his crews, but the rosters still vary from assignment to assignment. The night after the game is for hanging out with this particular group, all of whom he likes, some of whom he hasn't seen in a while. Morgante accepts the hotel option. "Howard just sent a note", Geiger calls out from his locker. He's zipped closed his suitcase and made a final check of his cell phone before heading to the van that will take them back to the hotel. "Howard" is Howard Webb, the former referee who is overseeing PRO. "Very nice job on the review", Geiger reads. Elsewhere in the stadium, in his press conference, United coach Martino says nothing about Geiger or any of his calls. The game write-up on the website Dirty South Soccer makes no mention that Geiger was even here. He'll drink exactly one pint of Samuel Adams Octoberfest in the atrium lobby of a chain hotel. In the morning, he'll catch a shuttle to the airport and then a United flight back to New Jersey. He'll slip out of Atlanta quietly this time, without incident, as inconspicuously as he'd hoped. 

Source: ESPN