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Ref Gets It Right - and Gets Panned
by Paul Gardner, October 16th, 2008 7AM

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I suppose you could argue that Toronto coach John Carver had an excuse for making an ass of himself at the end of the Dallas vs. Toronto game on Saturday. His team, denuded by international call-ups, had played a remarkable game in Dallas and with only one minute left, was heading for an unlikely 2-1 win.

Then referee Mark Geiger called a penalty kick against Toronto. The Toronto players mobbed Geiger, while Carver went berserk on the sideline.

Not pleasant to watch, certainly unprofessional but, as I say, one can understand the exasperation. Much less excusable -- in fact, totally inexcusable -- were the goings on in the Fox Soccer Channel broadcasting booth. The broadcasters -- I'll leave them nameless -- seemed intent on deciding that Geiger had made a wrong call. They spotted Toronto's Julius James pulling the shirt of Adrian Serioux. As did every TV viewer. That alone would be enough for Geiger to give Dallas a PK. But there was more. James then wrapped his arms around Serioux and, if not pulling him down, certainly upset his balance. Another PK foul. But while off balance, Serioux flailed with his arms -- and handled the ball. That the FSC guys did see -- and they started theorizing that Geiger had made a bad call because he had called a hand ball against the wrong team.

(I should add that these guys then further embarrassed themselves by not understanding why Geiger ordered Kenny Cooper to take the kick twice. Evidently they completely missed the blatant encroachment by Rocha on the first kick. Something that, again, all TV viewers could see very clearly).

After the game, a third FSC guy remarked that it wasn't really a PK at all.

Really? It seemed to me that Geiger had called the pulling/holding -- had, in fact, got it right. I found it difficult to understand why the FSC gang would be concentrating on what was definitely the less likely of two possible calls.

News stories followed, reporting on a "controversial" call -- MLS itself even posted a video of a newscast calling attention to the hand ball.

So here we have a case of a referee being criticized for making an incorrect correct call. And a criticism of one referee always turns into a criticism of refereeing in general -- in other words, a bad call by Geiger will be construed as an overall criticism of the general standard of MLS refereeing.

Clarification was needed. But MLS referred me to the USSF -- which supplies and speaks for the referees. There, Paul Tamberino, the USSF's Director of Referee Development, revealed all. He had spoken with Geiger, who told him that he had called a holding foul on James. A 100 percent correct call.

Which turns things around -- Geiger is taking the heat even though he made the correct call.

Without in any way excusing the deplorable performance of the FSC gang, I have to say that a huge share of the blame for this mess lies with the referees themselves, with USSF, and with MLS.

The confusion arose simply because no one knew, with certainty, what Geiger had called. That is a situation that should not be allowed. It is a perfect example of why referees should signal, clearly, on every call; an example of why referees need an accepted set of signals.

So, far too often, we remain in the dark about what a referee has called. Geiger, it seems to me, did, in fact, make some sort of signal -- but it was made so quickly, in the midst of players, and it was an unfamiliar movement of his arms -- it was either not seen or not understood. With the further result that Geiger has suffered a lot of unjust criticism. Why could either MLS or USSF not have issued a statement pointing out that Geiger got things right?

This could happen: The referees could pressure for the signals. But they don't. MLS could pressure for signals -- on the grounds that all American pro sports have clear and recognized referee signals, and that American fans expect to be told what's going on. But MLS does nothing. And the USSF could set up a committee to devise a set of signals and then authorize its use by MLS -- my understanding is that no FIFA permission would be necessary. But the USSF also does nothing.



0 comments
  1. Ian Plenderleith
    commented on: October 16, 2008 at 7:42 a.m.
    Spot on. I too was flabbergasted by the commentary team on both the foul and the re-take. Then they started talking excitedly about how "we can hopefully get John Carver on the post-game show." Because they know Carver is the new MLS rent-a-quote and that he'll likely say something controversial and then they can tell their bosses what great TV they're making. I'm all for promoting discussion about soccer's issues, but with FSC it always seems to be the wrong kind of discussion.

  1. Gunther Charles
    commented on: October 16, 2008 at 9:55 a.m.
    Quote: "Much less excusable — in fact, totally inexcusable — were the goings on in the Fox Soccer Channel Booth" unquote. That in fact is a given, how many times are they wrong and trying to call what the referee has missed and or misinterpreted according to them. Actually, let's call it what it really is - nonsense, dumb. But that's what they're getting paid for, be controversial, make senseless stupid commentary. There is a "mute" button on my TV, I use it constantly.

  1. Rodger Garner
    commented on: October 17, 2008 at 9:04 a.m.
    for once i agree with Paul on something. the call was correct, and the "annoucers" were wrong.....i couldn't believe their reactions on both the calls mentioned. Totally unaccetable!!!!! maybe FSC needs to get better monitors for the gang to look at replays, and maybe a spotter in the booth. It seems like these guys feel that they must be talking, and in talking so much they miss the actions on the field????? but for once, i agree 100% with Paul.

  1. Frank Cebul
    commented on: October 21, 2008 at 12:10 a.m.
    Paul--once again, I agree with you. I watched that game and I was baffled that the FSC announcers could not see the obvious foul by the defense. I am repeatedly amazed when I see someone who, just because he is a sports announcer, thinks that he is more expert in officiating than the professional referee. It is kind of like a plumber trying to tell a mason how to build a wall. I also agree that referees could do something to help prevent confusion in these situations. They could push for signals,as you suggest, and they could allow less holding in other parts of the field. I suspect that the announcers were so used to seeing holding and shirt tugging go unpunished, that when they saw it occur right in front of them in the penalty area they did not recognize it as a foul.


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