Soccer referee Matt Geiger became the first American official to work the World Cup as a primary ref since 2002.

Now he’s the first American referee to ever work the knockout round in the 84-year history of the FIFA World Cup.   He’ll take to the pitch for Monday’s match between Nigeria and France.

Referee Mark Geiger in 2012

Referee Mark Geiger in 2012 (Photo: Ben Keller)

Geiger, a native of Beachwood, New Jersey, has been officiating since age 13.  “I grew up watching the World Cups, but I only started out refereeing as a teenager to make a few extra dollars,” he told before heading to Brazil.  “It was a hobby that I immediately enjoyed doing.”

His father, Ron, knew right away officiating was a good fit.  “We always kid about him: He was the perfect ref because even as a kid he was never wrong,” said Ron Geiger. “He’s very determined, he’s very confident. Once he sees something, that’s the way it is. You can’t back down from your decision [when you’re a referee].”

He moved up through the ranks, joining MLS in 2004 and winning the league’s Referee of the Year award in 2011.  Geiger worked his first international match – Mexico vs. Chile – in September 2008.  He went on to work the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 2011, where he became the first American referee to work a major men’s tournament final.   He also officiated at the London Olympics in 2012 and the 2013 FIFA Club World Cup.

Geiger’s experience on keeping order isn’t limited to just soccer matches.  His previous job was teaching math at Lacey Township High School (NJ), where he was recognized in 2009 as one of the 103 teachers who received the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.  He left teaching in 2013 to become a full-time referee with dream of reaching the World Cup — a dream he’s realizing this year in Brazil.

“For any referee or player the dream is to make it to a World Cup,” said Geiger. ” I have been given the opportunity and it will undoubtedly be a highlight for me, that’s for sure.”

2014 World Cup

Geiger officiated two matches in the group stage:  Chile’s 2-0 victory over Spain and Colombia’s 3-0 win over Greece.  He also manned the sidelines as the fourth official during Uruguay’s 1-0 victory over Italy, handling substitutions and stoppage time.

Geiger is looking forward to the knockout round.  “The more passionate the fans, the better the game is going to be,” he told the NY Daily News. “Some people take it too far. But the players feed off of it and I certainly feed off it.”

From the Washington Post:

“He’s one who feels he’s always right about everything, and he usually is,” said his brother, Steven Geiger. Other pro referees say he is good enough to become the first American official to make it out of the World Cup group stages as a center referee.

“I don’t think he’ll be making any mistakes,” said Michael Kennedy, a former FIFA-listed referee whose job at the New York-based Professional Referee Organization includes monitoring Mark Geiger’s performances in MLS, where Geiger has officiated for 11 seasons. “At the end of the day, he’s got that mentality and toughness and fitness to get in there, stay close to play and find the right angle to get it right.”

Geiger is up for the challenge, even in the high-pressure environment of the World Cup.  “Certainly, calls are going to be scrutinized more, but that’s all part of it. That’s why we’re training as hard as we are to get ready,” he told the New York Daily News. “There’s going to be debate on whether calls are correct or not,” he says. “You do your best to do your homework, know who the players are and know which management technique is going to work with each of them.”

From Beachwood to Brazil

The Daily News looked at Geiger’s path to the 2014 World Cup:

Geiger, the first American referee to make the World Cup since Brian Hall in 2002, was one of 25 referees selected by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, to officiate in Brazil.

He was among a group of refs from the CONCACAF region (Central and North America and the Caribbean) picked to undergo a two-year evaluation process that saw them assigned to camps, seminars and qualifying matches. Each referee candidate then was given the opportunity to work a tournament; Geiger, and his two regular assistants, Joe Fletcher and Sean Hurd, were assigned to the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco last December for their final evaluation. They performed admirably enough that they made the cut among 52 trios initially in the running for Brazil.


A look at a Geiger via MLS Life as a Ref:

“The people of Brazil are so passionate about soccer and there will be fans from all over the world so I can’t wait,” he told “I am fully aware that no American official has ever refereed beyond the group stages, but we are just looking to perform well as a trio and avoid controversy. If we do, hopefully we can progress into the knockout stages, and let’s hope the American soccer team can join us.”

Geiger worked Monday.   USA plays on Tuesday.  Let’s hope they both move on.


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