Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino’s right leg was practically vibrating in agitation under the table as he said some of the 800 words focused on the officiating in Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Martino has never held back from criticizing the officials in his 47 regular season games in charge of the Five Stripes.
But he unloaded on Sunday on one particular ref who has played a significant role in taking from Atlanta United two goals in its past two home games, and basically giving one to Sunday’s opponent by not suggesting a review of a call that resulted in a penalty kick.
That referee is Mark Geiger, who was on the field and took away a goal from Josef Martinez in a 2-0 loss to Sporting KC two weeks ago, and was in the replay booth on Sunday and suggested that referee Chris Penso review another goal scored by Martinez that was disallowed, and didn’t suggest that Penso review a penalty called against Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson. Replays showed that New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips threw himself to the ground to draw the call. The penalty was converted to tie the game 1-1 in the 42nd minute.
“I don’t want to take away credit from Red Bulls, so I don’t want to justify it with VAR, because Red Bulls are a very good team and the same thing for Kansas City, but the reality is that both games had the same protagonist, and when I say the same, I’m not talking about the referee,” Martino said. “I’m talking about the same person. In one game he refereed and in the other he reviewed. And they were decisive in the outcome of the game.”
» Photos: Atlanta’s second straight loss at home
At the beginning of the press conference, Martino acted as if he didn’t know Geiger was the Video Assistant Referee, which is an official who watches the game on a TV feed. The VAR watches in a booth on the same level as press row, high above the field. Martino said he didn’t know Geiger was the Video Assistant Referee until he was told by a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“So it was Mark Geiger?” he asked. “The same one who officiated the match against Kansas City? I didn’t know? I just found out.”
By the end of the questions about VAR, it seemed like Martino was well aware who was watching from above.
“The worry is for you all because the person reviewing VAR is going to the World Cup,” Martino said of Geiger. “It’s going to speak poorly of you all, not me.”
Atlanta United’s players, who were interviewed in the locker room before Martino spoke in a room a few yards down the concourse, were also critical of Geiger.
Gonzalez Pirez said the Martinez’s goal shouldn’t have been disallowed for what Penso said was a foul on Tim Parker after Geiger communicated to him to watch a replay of the sequence before the goal in the 32nd minute. On the play, Martinez and Parker were both chasing a through pass. Martinez ran toward Parker’s right shoulder, causing him to move right. Martinez then cut back to his left. Their feet got tangled and Parker fell down. Penso originally ruled a goal. Penso later said that Martinez tripped Parker. Martino said he can only think of a few times in his career he has seen that called against the offensive player. Gonzalez Pirez said both officials should be suspended.
“The Josef goal? What did he say,” Gonzalez Pirez said. “It’s stupid. It’s stupid. Because Parker runs to one side and Josef runs to the other side? He says foul. This is a foul? This is real? This is stupid. The referee every week, every single week, the same.”
Michael Parkhurst, Atlanta United’s captain, said Penso told him that it was a clear and obvious foul by Martinez.
“I said you had a clear view of it the first time and you didn’t call it, so it couldn’t have been too clear,” he said. “He said he second-guessed himself and didn’t call it.”
On Robinson’s foul that led to the penalty kick 10 minutes later, Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said he didn’t think it was a foul because that kind of contact is typical and calling it risks turning soccer into a non-contact sport. Guzan questioned why replay wasn’t used on that play.
“Referees are human,” he said. “I get it. It’s not an easy job. When you have it at your disposal, and you are still making decisions the way some decisions are going, not just tonight, but throughout the year, you have so start asking questions.”
It didn’t appear as if Geiger asked Penso to review the play (which can be seen by Penso putting his hand to his ear as if he’s listening), which is odd considering it was a bang-bang moment and there were several players in the area, unlike the Martinez-Parker play in which it was just the two of them running toward the goal and took a while to develop.
VAR was introduced last year and isn’t supposed to stop the flow of the game. Parkhurst said it is doing that in Atlanta United games. The team has had at least three goals disallowed at home this year because of the system.
“They tell us it will be once every three games and we have it every home game, at least once,” he said. “Either the right call isn’t being made the first time or they are missing too much. It needs to get better all around.”
VAR is supposed to be used in four areas:
Straight red cards;
Geiger, as the VAR, did suggest Penso review a red card given to Jeff Larentowicz early in the second half. After the review, the red was changed to a yellow. Red cards given to Atlanta United players have been overturned after a review twice this season. Players on the team have received three red cards this season. That is tied for most in the league
Guzan was unhappy with Sunday’s red card.
“That’s down to the guy that’s upstairs, the referee that’s in his ear,” he said when asked about VAR. “I don’t know. A lot of question marks after today’s game. I said to the referee afterward, to send someone off and then to pull him back onto the field, we’ve had that twice now happen to us. I think that’s a bit ridiculous.
“Not only sending a message to 10 other guys on the field but sending a message to 50,000 fans here’s a red card and two seconds later call him back onto the field. I don’t think that’s right.”
Martino had an answer, and was critical of Geiger:
“I think, in this case about the referee who is in charge of VAR, is to minimize the mistake of the referee,” Martino said. “Because he can’t say, ‘No, it’s a foul on the other team,’ so he gives a yellow card, but the call is for the same team. But what they’re doing is covering for each other, and it’s logical because they’re co-workers.”