Photo: Earl Gardner
The Geiger Counter just flipped.
Not sure how to explain it. It just did.
You see, Mark Geiger has been the standard of poor or overzealous officiating in Major League Soccer for three years here at The Philly Soccer Page.
In games he officiated, Geiger often became the story. Geiger would call too few fouls early on, a game would get chippy and eventually way out of hand, and he would rein it in suddenly with flashes of red cards that would dramatically change the game. Geiger often seemed bigger than the individual game he was officiating, becoming a deciding figure at a crucial point.
It was enough that, when PSP decided that the uneven officiating in MLS warranted a grade for each game’s performance, we called it the Geiger Counter. The feature now appears after Philadelphia Union games as part of PSP’s regular postgame player ratings. When we occasionally neglect to include the feature, readers are kind enough to chew us out and demand its return.
Some of us always felt bad about this, because Geiger is a local guy from Lacey Township, N.J. This was a man who was named MLS Referee of the Year in 2011 and was highly regarded in his other profession, earning a Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science teaching in 2009.
But he had earned the Geiger Counter.
So how do we explain his performance at the World Cup, where he is the only American referee calling games?
Geiger has stood out as one of the best referees in the tournament.
— Howler Magazine (@whatahowler) June 19, 2014
US referee Mark Geiger with more good work in Chile-Spain. FIFA gave him U-20 World Cup final in 2011. Would they give him a WC final? — Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 18, 2014
— Jason deVos (@jasondevos) June 18, 2014
One could call that an indictment of the other referees at the tourney, and that might be true to an extent. But it’s not the full story.
Geiger has truly done a stellar job in the two games he has run as lead official. While there have been various incidents of poor officiating at the World Cup — one line judge has already been sent home for bad calls — they haven’t happened in Geiger’s games, Colombia-Greece and Spain-Chile. In these games, the referee has not been bigger than the game. He simply called it the way it’s supposed to be called.
So what happened? Did Geiger evolve and become a better referee? Were we just wrong? Or is it something else? Could it be that the style of MLS is just so completely different from the international game that it demands something different of referees?
It may be a combination of those. (Not PSP being wrong though. Never that!)
MLS has a different style of play from most of the international teams that played in the games Geiger officiated this month. Spain and Chile are dynamic, attacking teams that aren’t exactly going overboard with their physical play. You could say the same for Colombia, although not so much for Greece.
Meanwhile, MLS is known as a very physical league in which persistent fouling is often acceptable enough that it endangers the league’s more technical players and doesn’t do much for producing an attractive style of play. There are two logical approaches for a ref to deal with this:
- Call a very tight game to maintain control and change the way players play so that it isn’t as physical.
- Accept that this is the league’s culture and call a looser game, stepping in only when things threaten to get out of hand.
Geiger often employs the second approach in MLS, and with physical teams like Philadelphia, the game eventually does gradually get out of hand, forcing Geiger to step in.
But employing the second approach in Brazil works when you’re not dealing with cynical, physical soccer. It’s all you need for Spain and Chile.
Beyond that, Geiger has simply made the right calls. No mistakes stand out. That’s what you want from a referee.
So what do we do here at the Philly Soccer Page? Do we have to change the name of the Geiger Counter?
Of course not. Our readers love it. And it serves a purpose.
We’ll just broaden its origin story. It began as a feature used to measure how bad a referee was.
Now that we see how good an official Geiger can be, we can genuinely view the Geiger Counter as a measure of how good a referee is.
Six of one, half a dozen of the other? Whatever. Credit goes where credit is due.
We just flipped the Geiger Counter. Or better yet, Mark Geiger just flipped it.
I wrote this column prior to watching Tuesday’s Italy-Uruguay match, in which Geiger was the fourth official. Sure enough, Geiger imprinted himself on the match when he ejected a member of the Italian staff. What to make of this? Just laugh and nod sagely.