Mark Geiger stood at the VAR screen with the fate of two soccer-loving nations in his hands. The American referee had to decide whether a late South Korea goal was offside, or if a German player's touch in the build-up made the goal legitimate.
If we have learned anything at this World Cup, it is that even seemingly simple VAR decisions can be made difficult. The call on South Korea's would-be goal was pretty straightforward — German midfielder Toni Kroos attempted to clear a loose ball away from the front of the German goal, but put it through the legs of teammate Niklas Sule and right to the feet of Korean striker Kim Young-Gwon, who turned and deposited the gift into the net.
Offside was the initial ruling, but Geiger eventually went to the VAR monitor to have a look and once he saw Kroos' fateful touch, Geiger made right call. The goal helped doom Germany to a deserved elimination and saved a Mexican team that looked set to go home despite having won its first two matches.
Geiger's decision was the very kind of call VAR was implemented to help correct, and it was fitting that it was Geiger, one of the referees at this World Cup who has experience using VAR, who made the biggest VAR decision of the tournament thus far.
In fact, it was just last month when Geiger was using VAR to rule on a potential offside decision in an MLS match between Atlanta United and Sporting Kansas City. On that day, Geiger made the questionable decision to negate an Atlanta United goal because he felt Sporting Kansas City defender Jimmy Medranda hadn't intentionally handled the ball that eventually found its way to an offside Josef Martinez.
Wednesday's decision was much more clear cut. Kroos clearly intended to clear the ball from danger, but the same player who temporarily kept Germany's World Cup hopes alive with a late winner against Sweden watched helplessly as his errant clearance wound up being buried into the German net.
The decision capped a strong match for Geiger, a 43-year-old former math teacher from New Jersey and a referee who is no stranger to controversy, or to Mexico fans. It was Geiger who awarded a controversial late penalty kick in the 2015 Gold Cup semifinals that helped Mexico eliminate Panama. It was also Geiger who was accused earlier in the current World Cup of asking for a player's jersey — a claim FIFA refuted— after he officiated Portugal's 1-0 win against Morocco.
Widely regarded as the best referee in American soccer, Geiger is one of two American referees currently working the World Cup — Jair Marrufo being the other. Geiger is officiating in his second straight World Cup, having become the first American to officiate a knockout-round match when he called the round-of-16 encounter between France and Germany in Brazil. Geiger's performance on Wednesday should put him in the running for a return to the knockout rounds.