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An MLS match well-handled by the man in the middle

Oct 28, 2012, 3:00 PM EDT

San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers Getty Images

A post last week about Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, San Jose Earthquakes striker Steven Lenhart and general MLS “style” generated lots of great discussion.

Plenty of people disagreed with my thoughts – which is always OK.  Others were on the “A-men!” train.

But I wanted to follow up quickly this morning, because more than a few people missed one important point of the post: that it’s not so difficult to create a situation on the field where most of that conversation is moot.

It’s not so very difficult to manage matches so that players perform less recklessly, more within the rule and with less wanton aggressiveness.

(MORE: the Gonzalez, Lenhart, MLS style PST post in question)

Last night in Portland, referee Mark Geiger showed everyone how to handle Lenhart and, in the bigger picture, how to properly manage a match.

Lenhart was whistled for two fouls within the first eight minutes. He and Portland defender David Horst were going at it pretty good, just like Lenhart and Gonzalez last week.

But Geiger’s prudent choice to deal with things early, rather than dealing with an escalating situation later, served the game well. Lenhart is no dummy – even if he throws himself around like a crash-test dummy at times. Recognizing the situation,  that another foul so early would likely draw a yellow card for persistent infringement, he tamed his game.

(MORE: Chris Wondolowski deserves his place in MLS record book)

With that, the rest of the evening went off more or less without incident. (Yes, the penalty kick decision looked iffy, but that’s more about the referee’s angle and his thought process on the decision, less about overall game management, which is the point here.)

It’s really simple: call the fouls early. Set the tone. Show the players their boundaries. They pick up on it.

Things can still escalate, of course, but a referee who does so reduces the chances of further bad temper, reduces the incidence of all the silly stuff that all too often drags down quality of MLS contests.

Well done last night by Geiger.

  1. ndnut - Oct 28, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    Call the Press! When was the last time an official calmed a situation early in MLS?

    • Steve Davis - Oct 28, 2012 at 5:01 PM

      Exactly! Wish I could say it more often.

  2. east96st - Oct 28, 2012 at 8:56 PM

    “It’s really simple: call the fouls early. Set the tone. Show the players their boundaries. They pick up on it.”

    I have been saying this on the youth level for years. I’d like to see it in every soccer game, but especially when the kids are playing and are, needlessly, getting hurt. Any chance you could write the entire Board of the Ohio South State Referee Committee? Inexplicably, the reluctance to blow their whistle on even blatant fouls ends up getting a lot kids hurt. I think youth soccer’s “concussion problem” – and many of professional soccer’s injuries – would go down dramatically if those four sentences became the mantra of all the officials. I like a physical game and coach a physical style. But there’s a world of difference between two players coming together hard should to shoulder and a player driving an elbow into his opponent’s head. When that elbow comes into play and the ref stands silent, it’s only a matter of time before the retaliation foul comes and if that doesn’t draw a whistle, then the game starts on a downward trend that becomes harder and harder to stop.

  3. bramweiser - Oct 29, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    I didn’t see this match so I can’t comment on the kind of job that Mark Geiger did here.

    However, I do remember that he was the “man in the middle” in the DC-Philadelphia match at RFK in late August that I attended and that became absolutely farcical, in large measure (as I recall) due to refereeing decisions that he (&, by extension, his team) made.

    I believe he’s on FIFA’s short list for 2016 in Rio, and wish him well. I also hope that the good marks you’re giving him for this match show an improvement over the DC-Philly one I saw (and which PST commented on), but I think PST should have referred to, and described, matches like that one that he also refereed — and not THAT long ago, either — when taking time to applaud his efforts here, so as to provide fuller context.

  4. wfjackson3 - Oct 29, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    If more referees bothered to calm situations early, I wouldn’t have an injured foot ligament.

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