After calling fulltime on his outstanding career at the end of 2018, Mark Geiger has just completed his first year as PRO’s Director of Senior Match Officials.
The two-time MLS Referee of the Year’s transition was announced in January last year following 21 years in the center, with three CONCACAF Gold Cups, two FIFA World Cups and an Olympic Games headlining his resume.
We caught up with Mark to see how he’s adjusted to spending his first season away from the field.
You are now settled into your new role, but at what point did you start thinking about life after the whistle?
I was preparing myself for it all of my last year. I knew that after the World Cup, everything was going to be finished internationally, so I started thinking about life without FIFA. Things were going well in Russia, and I considered it would be the perfect time to step down – I wanted to go out on top.
Given the level that you reached within FIFA, you were well-versed in working in four-year cycles so presumably the next World Cup was in mind when you made the call?
That’s exactly how you do it. For me, I wasn’t going to be doing 2022, I would be 48 years old. I was gone 205 days in 2017, with seminars and matches and work with PRO, so I didn’t want to have to go through that type of a cycle again.
Fortunately, there was a great opportunity available for you at PRO…
I knew the position was open, it was close enough to the end of my career, and it was a type of position that I always wanted to do. So, I gave myself time to process what it was going to be like the following year not stepping out onto a field, and I knew what my last game would be. Then, I knew I could step away and be satisfied with the decision.
Your new role had not previously existed, meaning you could take ownership over it from day one. Was that an added attraction?
It was; it took football and my teaching background and put them together into a job, so it is a dream position for me. I could have gone back to the Math classroom, but I wouldn’t have had soccer on top of it, and I still wanted to be able to incorporate that. I knew the role was very close to what Paul Rejer and Michael Kennedy were doing, almost combining their two roles when PRO first started.
How have you found that transition from sitting there, listening to presentations every fortnight, to now standing up and delivering them?
It was not too big of a transition because of the instructional role that senior guys take within the group; they’re giving advice too. So, a lot of the things that I am saying now as one of the instructors, I was also saying as one of the referees, so we talk as peers still.
Rather than feeling the nerves ahead of your games, how have you coped with looking out for all of them every week?
It’s a different nervousness; I used to want the other guys to do well, but I was completely focused on my match. Now, I have to focus on 12 games, and I have no control. You know they’re prepared, you know they’ve done all the work, you know they’re going to be fine, but you have no direct control over the performance. Plus, what happens in their matches is going to influence my job going forward.
You received a presentation from the group at preseason camp to mark the end of your career and had a reception that clearly moved you, how hard was it to hold it together on stage?
It was incredible; to be recognized by your peers for what you’ve accomplished over the years is special.
Even thinking about it, you get really emotional, because you’re trying to represent yourself and the group, and when you do these competitions, you carry a weight on your shoulders knowing that all of US Soccer and all of CONCACAF is depending on you to perform well.
Have you been able to pick out one career highlight, something that you would have dreamt about at the start of your career or are your favorite memories an amalgamation of achievements?
In big competitions, whether it’s [World Cups in] Brazil, Russia, the Confederations Cup, or the CONCACAF Gold Cup, it’s the anticipation of coming out of the tunnel. With the anthem, with the teams behind you, with your crew, nothing compares to it. Several of those matches standout – you just remember that walk out.
Do you miss it?
Yes, absolutely. Do I regret the decision to leave the field? Not in the least. I know I made the right decision, I’m excited about the position that I’m in right now and the influence that I can have, and I’m looking forward to continuing to help build the program.