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Mark Geiger on the demands of officiating a growing sport

Since becoming PRO’s Director of Senior Match Officials, Mark Geiger has already gotten into the routine of embracing the challenges his new role brings.

After over two decades of making difficult on-field decisions, he’s now filling his days utilizing that experience to help manage and develop PRO’s senior referee roster.

With new franchises being established around the country, ready to debut in the MLS, USL and NWSL in next couple of years – and with more to follow – the number of extra regular season games this creates has meant meeting this demand will be one of PRO’s biggest medium-term challenges.

“We have a small and elite, but aging list of referees, and as the league expands exponentially, our current list is not sufficient to handle what’s going to happen five years from now,” Geiger explained.

“We have to replace the guys who are looking to retire in the next few years, plus add some more people for the additional games, so there is a lot of communication in place to make sure that the officials in the development group are getting the experience that they need to become senior match officials.

“The ones that made that jump on probation or trial have done very well, which is encouraging for us knowing they will most likely be a part of that senior match official group in the coming years.

“It’s asking for patience from the leagues, the teams, the players, and understanding that we’re going through this transitional period, but we are going to be in a great spot five years from now.”

The emerging number of teams is a healthy sign of the strength of the game here ahead of a new era that leads to the 2026 World Cup. New rivalries, both locally and across competitions, are being formed as more and more teams bid for a finite amount of silverware.

With the higher stakes, every game is becoming more important, meaning Geiger has to ensure PRO referees are prepared to take on big matches.

“When we do the assignments, there are no easy games in MLS anymore,” he said. “Ten years ago, you could pick them out, but this year, there’s none.

“We know that we’re stretching some referees, guys that are relatively inexperienced that we’re putting on big-time matches – ones that you know are going to be a packed stadium, or are going to have some extra challenges.

“Teams aren’t going to care that they have an inexperienced referee, they just want the right decision on the field, so it’s making sure that they’re ready to go out there and deliver what the teams expect.”

In addition, the opportunities for North American officials on the international stage highlight the regard officials are now held in globally and as part of his new role, Geiger is passionate about ensuring PRO champions the successes of its officials, showcasing just what can be achieved with the correct application.

“We aim to open up camps with [acknowledging] international appointments that have happened, such as FIFA and CONCACAF,” he said proudly. “This is so we’re able to celebrate accomplishments before every single camp.

“I get very excited for these guys because these are big achievements – from Jair [Marrufo] and his team getting the Champions League Final, Katja [Koroleva], Katy [Nesbitt], Felisha [Mariscal] and Drew [Fischer] going to the Women’s World Cup, Micheal [Barwegen], Drew [Fischer] and Armando [Villarreal] going to the Under-17 World Cup to Ismail [Elfath] and his team refereeing the Under-20 World Cup Final and now heading off to Qatar for the Club World Cup with Kyle [Atkins], Corey [Parker] and Alan [Kelly], it has been a big year.

“There have been so many great things that have happened for the referees here, and I am really happy to share them, letting other guys know what their peers are doing outside of PRO.”

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