SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — An American soccer referee is drawing accolades for his performances in the white-hot spotlight glare of the World Cup in Brazil and is inserting himself among the list of better-known referees for casual World Cup fans.
39-year-old Mark Geiger is the first U.S. referee selected to officiate at the World Cup since 2002. His Colombia-Greece match on June 14th followed two days of matches marked by questionable referee decisions, so the pressure was on for Geiger to nail it.
Geiger’s performance at that match was universally applauded and FIFA rewarded him and his crew a marquee matchup between defending champion Spain and Chile on June 18th. Again, Geiger distinguished himself in a tense encounter that saw the Chile eliminate the Spain from the knockout rounds.
Just as U.S. men’s national team is viewed at times as somewhat of an interloper in international soccer, so it is for U.S. international-level referees.
Geiger is demonstrating that U.S. referees belong at this level and he may even be in the running for the ultimate assignment in soccer – center referee for the World Cup final.
The man in the middle for the last World Cup final in 2010, Howard Webb of Yorkshire, England, is one of the most recognized referees for his frequent international appearances and assignments in the English Football Association.
Webb was widely criticized for not dealing more harshly with Dutch players in the Netherlands-Spain final, a game which saw him hand out 14 yellow cards, more than double the previous number for a World Cup final.
A former police sergeant with a physique that rivals that of players, Webb with his trademark bald dome often towers over everyone else on the field.
Even at the highest levels, many referees hold part-time or full-time jobs in addition to refereeing international matches. The best-paid referees at the World Cup can earn up to $50,000 for the tournament – most will earn much less to take an inordinate amount of abuse from players, fans, coaches, TV commentators and armchair pundits.
One referee who definitely does it for the love of the game is Sweden’s Jonas Eriksson, who refereed the U.S. – Ghana match. The 40-year-old Eriksson is a multi-millionaire who gained his fortune as a former shareholder in Swedish media firm IEC.
“All the money hasn’t changed anything, the best thing I do in my life is still refereeing football,” he told Goal.com in 2012.
Eriksson is known for allowing play to flow and not calling a lot of fouls (or issuing a lot of cards) that other refs would. He has had his share of controversy, including at a crucial Champions League match this year and is relatively new to the international scene.
MARCO ANTONIO RODRIGUEZ
On the other hand, a referee who is known for being very strict and issuing more yellow and red cards than other referees is perhaps even better known for certain aspects of his appearance.
40-year-old Marco Antonio Rodriguez of Mexico has been an international referee since 2000 and has earned the nickname ‘Chiquidrácula’ for his resemblance to a child Count Dracula TV character on Mexican television.
Rodriguez, a former sports professor and also a Protestant priest, has said he is not fond of the nickname because of his Christian faith.
One of the most experienced referees in the 2014 World Cup comes from one of the world’s smallest nations in terms of land mass. 39-year-old Joel Aguilar comes from the Central American nation of El Salvador.
Aguilar was selected for the 2010 World Cup but only as a reserve and did not officiate any matches. His does have an extensive resume of international tournaments since 2001, including Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups, Confederations Cup and World Club Cup finals.
Aguilar was solid in the June 19th Greece-Japan 0-0 duel which saw him send off Greek captain Kostas Katsouranis in the first half after issuing him 2 yellow cards.