A Crucial Copa America for CONCACAF Officials

Last year was not exactly a banner one for CONCACAF officials, as their performance at the Gold Cup was heavily criticized. Most of the games were physical, ugly affairs, and the CONCACAF officials in charge did not seem prepared for such a style of play. They often lost control of the games or called phantom fouls in an attempt to control the game’s physicality. The most notable issues came in the quarterfinal match between Mexico and Costa Rica, and the semifinal between Mexico and Panama.  In the Costa Rica vs. Mexico match, American assistant Eric Boria called a penalty in the 122nd minute of a tied game, on a play in which there appeared to be little contact. Also the Mexican player who drew the “foul”, Oribe Peralta, should have been sent off after a horrific tackle a few minutes earlier. 1  Although the Costa Rican manager declined to criticize the call after the game, there was little doubt that it was an awful call and that it essentially handed El Tri the game. 2

The officiating in Mexico’s next game was even poorer. In the 25th minute, Panama’s star forward Luis Tejada hit a Mexican defender in the face with his forearm while going up for a header. While the contact appeared unintentional, and perhaps a bit reckless, Tejada was sent off with a straight red card. Yes, Tejada committed a foul, but it was worthy of maybe a yellow and certainly not a red.

Playing a man down, Panama actually took the lead, yet the bad officiating was not over. In the 88th minute, a Panamanian defender fell onto the ball after appearing to be fouled in the box, yet the official called a penalty in Mexico’s favor. 3 Andres Guardaro, who took the penalty, thought the call was so bad he considered intentionally missing the penalty shot. 4 Yet Mexico converted this penalty, tieing the game, and eventually won it in overtime. Amazingly, the official in this match was Mark Geiger, considered to be one of CONCACAF’s top officials.

This stretch of poor officiating last summer is a microcosm of a greater officiating problem within CONCACAF. While the top officials in CONCACAF such as American Mark Geiger, are usually on a comparable level to other elite level referees in other confederations, CONCACAF lacks the officiating depth found in South America, Europe, and even Africa.  As a result, the quality of CONCACAF officiating often lags behind that of UEFA and CONMEBOL, especially in matches not officiated by its top officials.  In recent years, CONCACAF has made a concerted effort to get officials from its smaller member nations involved in order to try and improve the depth of its officiating pool, but this effort has not yet raised the officiating standard to an acceptable level.  5

The Gold Cup was a painful reminder of this fact. After the tournament, both the Panamanian and Costa Rican associations officially protested the results of their matches against Mexico, with the President of the Panamanian federation going so far as to accuse Mark Geiger, and the rest of CONCACAF, of fixing the match in favor of Mexico. 6 In response, CONCACAF undertook a full review of its officiating department, after which it promised to reform its referee appointment process, restructure its officiating department, and increase compensation for match officials. 7 CONCACAF also hired a new Director of Officiating, Brian Hall, a former MLS referee who also officiated at the 2002 World Cup. Hall has promised to improve the training of CONCACAF officials, as well as minimize outside distractions such as compensation disputes, that may have contributed to poor officiating last summer. 8

These issues at last years Gold Cup mean that this year’s Copa America Centenario is even more important for CONCACAF officials, and there is a huge amount of pressure on them to perform well.  CONCACAF’s officials need to regain the trust of the fans, players, and managers and the Copa America Centenario provides a huge, prestigious stage on which to do it. A string of strong, even performances could prove that last year’s officiating issues were an aberration, and not a recurring issue within CONCACAF, and go a long way to proving that CONCACAF’s officials are on par with those from other confederations around the world.  Yet, more poor performances could do long lasting harm to CONCACAF officials’ credibility and respect.  Trust in CONCACAF is already extremely low, due to last year’s issues, and the rampant corruption that has been exposed this year.  More poor officiating and dubious decisions this summer could again raise suspicion that CONCACAF’s corruption has spread to its officials. Thus, CONCACAF’s officials have a lot to prove, and a lot to lose, at the Copa America Centenario. We will learn in June if they are up to the challenge.


How to cite this page: “A Crucial Copa America for CONCACAF Officials” ,Written by Cali Nelson(2016). Copa America Centenario 2016 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/tournament-guides/copa-america-centenario-2016-guide/copa-america-centenario-referees/concacaf-referees/ (accessed on (date)). 


  1. Wahl, Grant. “Mexico-Panama Controversy Is Not Going Away for Flawed Gold Cup.” Gold Cup Controversy Reverts CONCACAF Back to Its Corrupt Ways. July 25, 2015. Accessed April 17, 2016. http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2015/07/24/mexico-panama-gold-cup-concacaf-controversy-corruption-referees-fifa-scandal.
  2. “Mexico Beats Costa Rica on Last-minute Penalty by Andres Guardado.” ESPNFC.com. July 19, 2015. Accessed April 17, 2016. http://www.espnfc.us/concacaf-gold-cup/match/430269/mexico-costa-rica/report.
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  5. Arnold, Jon. “Gold Cup Daily: Penalty or Not, Officiating Must Improve – Goal.com.” Goal.com. July 20, 2015. Accessed April 17, 2016. http://www.goal.com/en-us/news/588/gold-cup/2015/07/20/13730682/gold-cup-daily-penalty-or-not-officiating-must-improve.
  6. Longman, Jeré. “Gold Cup Match Fixed, Panama Official Says.” The New York Times. July 24, 2015. Accessed April 17, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/25/sports/soccer/gold-cup-match-fixed-panama-official-says.html.
  7. “CONCACAF Announces Results of Referee Department Review.” CONCACAF. January 13, 2016. Accessed April 17, 2016. http://www.concacaf.com/article/concacaf-announces-results-of-referee-department-review.
  8. Carlisle, Jeff. “New CONCACAF Ref Director Brian Hall Vows to ‘foster Top-class Performance'” ESPNFC.com. March 7, 2016. Accessed April 17, 2016. http://www.espnfc.com/concacaf-gold-cup/story/2824398/concacaf-hires-brian-hall-as-new-director-of-refereeing.