ZURICH (AP) — Mark Geiger and Jurgen Klinsmann are in similar spots as they prepare for the World Cup. Both need good opening matches if they want to make it to the knockout rounds.
Geiger is trying to become the first American referee to advance from the World Cup group stage. Klinsmann coaches the U.S., and his first challenge is June 16 against Ghana. Germany and Portugal complete Group G.
Geiger is the first American official at the World Cup since 2002. His assignment could be any match from the other seven groups. The 39-year-old former high school math teacher from New Jersey won't know which until days before kickoff.
"If you don't do well there, the tournament is done," Geiger said Thursday after a training seminar at FIFA for World Cup referees and assistants. "We need to focus on that first game wholeheartedly, make sure we nail that and get it right."
If he does, a big step follows.
"It's like any team, any player, any coach, you want to be in the final," Geiger said.
This is Geiger's seventh year on FIFA's international list of officials approved for national team matches. The governing body has monitored him on a candidates list for two years. Midway through the process he made refereeing in Major League Soccer his full-time job.
"Timingwise, it couldn't have been more perfect," he said. "I've seen improvements in myself. I don't have that stress while I'm at the tournament worrying about what my students are doing back home."
Geiger's commitment aligns with FIFA President Sepp Blatter's long-held wish that World Cup referees be free of day-job distractions.
Four years ago in South Africa, World Cup final referee Howard Webb was one of few professionals, having left his career as a police officer in England. Not all the 25 doing duty in Brazil will be full-time referees.
Still, Geiger had admirers at FIFA even when he worked at Lacey Township High School in Lanoka Harbor, N.J.
In 2011, at the Under-20 World Cup played in Colombia, Geiger and his regular assistants Sean Hurd and Canada's Joe Fletcher were rewarded with the final.