Regarding the use of video replay in MLS, the issue is not "if" but "when."
A league spokesperson on Wednesday confirmed that the league is merely waiting for official parameters and guidelines to be issued by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which at its annual meeting Saturday approved a two-year experimental period. The IFAB outlined four situations in which video review can be applied: the scoring of a goal; penalty-kick decisions; issuing of yellow and red cards; and possible cases of mistaken identity regarding cards.The IFAB plan calls for video assistant referees (VARs) to follow the action and refer to TV footage in case of a questionable decision. The VARs would consult with the on-field officiating crew and aid the referee in his evaluation and possible change of a decision. Certain ideas, such as a challenge system by coaches as is used by the NFL, were not incorporated into the IFAB proposal.
Last month, the German Bundesliga (DFL) declared its intent to experiment with video replay once the IFAB had given its sanction. The Dutch Eredivisie has already conducted tests and presented its findings to the IFAB early this year. At the MLS SuperDraft in January MLS commissioner Don Garber said tests could be conducted this year in the USL, which features the second squads of many MLS teams. MLS conducted its own tests during league matches last year.
I had hoped that the process of scoring a goal would be subject to review, as is the case with touchdown plays in the NFL. Had replay been in use last year, egregious errors such as the ball clearly running out of play in the buildup to Portland’s second goal in the MLS Cup final would have been corrected. If a questionable offside situation occurs leading up to a goal, it could be reviewed as well.
According to information released by the IFAB, video replay can be used to “assist the referee to determine whether there was an infringement that means a goal should not be awarded.” Is that limited to the actual scoring of the goal itself -- possibility by a player using his arm or from an offside position? -- or can the play be “rewound” far enough to examine enough of the sequence to assure its validity? Is the only reviewable issue whether the ball crossed the line?There is already technology in place to assist the referee in deciding whether a ball crossed the goal line but its use is limited. Citing costs of several million dollars, MLS announced three years ago it would not implement goal-line technology (GLT), which was used at the 2014 World Cup.
FIFA approved use of GLT in 2013 after companies experimented with various systems for several years and conducted further tests under observation by FIFA officials. GLT is used in the English Premier League and Italian Serie A, and will be introduced to the UEFA Champions League next season.
Critics of GLT and VAR and any other refereeing aid they consider to be a blight on the beautiful game sometimes rail that the pursuit of “perfection” in refereeing decisions is a fool’s goal. I doubt if any advocate of technological assistance has a perfect world in mind. The objectives are improvement and reduced errors, which is what any business or organization should strive for.
However, the critics are also wary of limited video replay being expanded in the future, and they have a valid point. But under the IFAB proposal, in situations regarding penalty kicks and yellow/red cards, the use of video replay is designed to avoid “clearly wrong decisions.” Exactly how broad those powers will be isn’t known. A review can be initiated by the referee or the VARs but the ultimate decision is still left up to whomever is patrolling the middle.
A great many close offside decisions lead up to great scoring chances, and thus result in goals, but consistently getting the right camera angle to judge all the possible variations of offside isn’t feasible. Yet in all cases, the referees will be limited in the video-replay process to what the cameras record when they use video replay, and the rules can be modified for cases in which the video is inconclusive. If the ruling on the field stands, I can live with that.
In every situation approved by the IFAB plan, play has stopped: a goal has been scored (or not), a penalty kick awarded, a card issued, a person disciplined. (I say "person" because there have been numerous occasions where an official wasn’t sure which player or coach or other individual was culpable for some action or behavior.) The game’s flow has already been interrupted, so the use of video replay doesn’t in itself stop the game.
Re-starting play might take a minute or two but teams have waited longer than that to take a penalty or free kick or tend to an injured player. There will be problems to be solved and kinks to be worked out, as there are always are when significant changes are wrought. It can be done.
I accept that soccer games, like all human activities, are subject to the imperfections and flaws of those who play and officiate them. I fear the inevitable encroachment of technology. But I'm tired of obviously wrong calls passing into history and if a limited use of video replay can correct a lot of them, go for it.