One of the biggest knocks that has always followed FIFA World Cup referee Mark Geiger is that he's probably much better as an international referee than a domestic one.
What I mean by that is, he calls MLS games to the international standard, and in the rough, physical style of MLS there are often a lot of quick fouls that get called. Geiger, at least on Sunday, showed tremendous restraint on multiple occasions to allow advantage to develop and not bog down the game.
Which is exactly what more referees should be doing. As a center referee you want to wait a second or two to determine if a team is going to gain an advantage and in particular at the international level to maintain the flow of the game. So in Sunday's New England Revolution - Philadelphia Union game, Geiger actually made two good attempts at advantage that had Revs players, and probably fans, fuming a bit.
Unfortunately, the replay of the game is still under the 48-hour national television blackout on MLS Live as I write this Tuesday afternoon, so I'm going to have to do this from memory. Details might be off but the general idea is still there.
Jones, Woodberry Shine Defensively vs. Union
Injuries forced Jay Heaps to put together a makeshift backline in Philadelphia, but the two non-regular defenders stepped up in a big way.
In the 30th minute, Lee Nguyen is fouled by Steven Vitoria at midfield, but Geiger holds his position and his whistle as Scott Caldwell picks up the ball and tries to go upfield. But as he's held up/fouled by another Union player, Geiger brings the play back for the foul on Nguyen as advantage never developed. There's a hint of a tactical foul against Nguyen (and Caldwell for that matter) but Geiger opts to keep the cards in his pocket which I'm okay with. Lee and Scott were both moving more towards the sideline than upfield and didn't seem to be in that much of a hurry and at this point no cards have been issued.
But Lee objects to receiving a yellow card just a few minutes later for a tackle from behind on C.J. Sapong. Make no mistake, that's a yellow card no matter what, tactical foul or no, because Lee is very late and has zero chance of getting the ball. Yes, he and Andy Dorman object to the yellow on grounds that Vitoria didn't get one for the earlier foul but Geiger is right to book Nguyen on just the foul itself.
Then, four minutes later, Kelyn Rowe gets dumped behind the play by Raymon Gaddis but play continues for the Revs on the advantage. But Rowe stays down on the play and after losing possession, the Revs are expecting play to stop. But Geiger, who's under no obligation to stop the game to tend to the downed Rowe, allows play to continue and Maurice Edu does his best Jose Goncalves impression and surges up the field on a long dribble before being fouled at the top of the box by Jermaine Jones.
After that foul, is when Geiger goes back and books Gaddis, though I think he forgets to caution Jones as well, this is another time where Geiger absolutely gets it right and the Revs didn't play to the whistle. Referees only have to stop the game for apparent head injuries or if a downed player could be in danger due to the play on the field. Rowe, down behind the play as Philly goes the other way, is in no such threatened position and while Geiger is aware of the late tackle on Gaddis, he says play on. Geiger doesn't have to stop play immediately to book Gaddis, that will happen on the next stoppage and the Revs shoot themselves in the foot and give up a counter and a foul at the other end, which allows Cristian Maidana to curl in a beaut of a free kick for the opener.
Yes, it's not fair that the Union essentially create a counter attack by committing a yellow card tackle in their half but that's too darn bad, New England needs to play the whistle. Too often in MLS we see advantage not played to call ordinary fouls and free kicks from midfield. So while Mark Geiger might drive fans crazy, it should be the other way around, Geiger's the only sane one in the asylum. It's because he's getting the best training and officiating the game the way that FIFA wants it officiated at the international level and sometimes that doesn't translate well to domestic play.
Now, I will say that Mark Geiger was solid yesterday, but that doesn't mean there wasn't interesting plays from last Sunday's game. We go back to Fernando Aristeguieta's 16th minute shot off the crossbar:
I said it basically right after the play, but Aristeguieta's in an offside position here. Sapong sends in what I think is supposed to be a shot that more or less comes straight back to Aristeguieta either by accident or design and the ball somehow comes off Bobby Shuttleworth's foot and the underside of the crossbar.
Now my initial question was whether Sapong or Kevin Alston plays this ball, but after multiple looks it's pretty clear that it's Sapong and we have a decent freeze frame here that has Aristeguieta in the offside position.
Now, thankfully the soccer gods allowed a temporary lapse in the laws of physics to prevent an offside goal from being scored but I'm a little shocked the broadcast team of Adrian Healey and Taylor Twellman don't pick up on this right away. It is a bang-bang play as the ball back to Aristeguieta is almost immediate to his centering pass but the linesman is right there on the endline with a good view of not only the offside call but whether or not the ball crosses the endline for a goal. It's a lot to focus on but that should be a call that gets made.
Lastly, there's a foul on Sheanon Williams late in the game, and I thought he was lucky to stay in the game and Simon Borg agrees in his Instant Replay segment.
Now, Borg also thinks Lee's earlier discussed tackle is also worthy of a red for the potential of injury on the play. I disagree with that but I've already discussed that this is a clear yellow regardless of the tactical nature of the foul and would never recommend sliding in from behind. The Union-Revs highlights begins around the 5:50 mark of the replay video, but it's the second clip where Williams goes studs up into Teal Bunbury in stoppage time that bothered me.
We've seen this type of foul punished with a red card in the past, keep watching for Real Salt Lake's Sebastian Saucedo example at the 7:00 minute mark, as Williams goes studs into the ankle. I equate this to almost sliding into a base in baseball, where your studs are digging into the ground to get to the base, but in soccer that's very dangerous because hitting a planted foot can cause serious injury.
I'd expect the MLS Disciplinary Committee to take a look at this one but I'm not going to call for a suspension here. If it happens, it's deserved but like the Nguyen yellow I'm more upset at the situation rather than the tackle. Sliding in, studs up or no, on a more stationary player who's shielding/stalling with the ball is usually endangering the safety of an opponent because there's a greater chance you hit a planted leg or foot. It's an ill-advised sliding challenge by Williams but possibly nothing more than that and the yellow on the field could be enough.
Overall, this was a fairly clean game, just 25 fouls and five bookings, most of them late. After the two quick cards to Nguyen and Gaddis in the first, the only other foul of note is Conor Casey going through the back of London Woodberry in the 84th minute. It's a great defensive play by Woodberry to get between Casey and the ball, and Casey should probably pull out of his run rather than try and go through Woodberry here. If it's an excessive force yellow it's understandable but I imagine most of Casey's fouls involve excessive force, he's a big guy. Teal Bunbury made a late donation to MLS WORKS with a time wasting yellow and I'll never understand why anyone gets those.
But Mark Geiger is the best and sadly I think that games like this add to his detractors and not the other way around. The goal is not to whistle every foul, nor is it to whistle fouls immediately after then happen all the time. I mean, if you called a foul in a youth game for every time a defender clipped an ankle you would be there all day calling fouls. Less whistles means more fluid soccer games, so while it seems odd to see obvious fouls called a second or two late, that's what should be happening. Yes, the Revs seemed to expect the play to be blown dead before Edu's run that led to Maidana's free kick goal but that's because the norm in MLS is to stop that play.
Mark Geiger is trying to break the norm, but he can't do it alone. Right now, more often than not, it seems like he is. But I can't watch every game, every week, as much as I'd like to. I only get to see a small percentage of games and calls made. Hopefully in future games we'll see more referees wait to see if advantage develops.