Get ready for the week of VAR in MLS

This is the big week MLS introduces the Video Assistant Referee system, VAR for short. MLS has been preparing for this for three years. It has explained the intricacies of VAR to coaches and players, and is working on educating media and fans as well. Bottom line: It's very complicated when you scratch the surface. Here are a dozen examples.

Jeff Agoos, the MLS vice president, competition, made a presentation to the media on the eve of the Gold Cup final in San Jose, explaining the ins and outs and subtleties of VAR, blowing away even Joe Machnik, Fox Sports' soccer refereeing expert.



The protocol: VAR will correct “clear and obvious mistakes” in four areas and four areas only: goals scored, penalty kicks, red cards given or not given and mistaken identity.

Here's what we've learned ...

1. VAR's dirty little secret. The net effect of VAR is it will take away goals -- which, for a sport that needs all the scoring it can get and all the excitement and celebration that accompany a goal, is a very troubling thing. VAR will review the play that leads up to a goal and nullify it if an attacking foul was committed that was not previously spotted. It won't go back and award the attacking team the ball if a foul led to an attack being broken up unless it involves one of the two buckets in which VAR has authority to review -- possible penalty kick or possible red card (specifically DOGSO situations).

2. VAR plays the whistle. Just as players are taught to play the whistle, VAR will play the whistle. If a goal is scored after a referee erroneously whistles an attacker for a foul or offside, VAR can't do anything about it -- no "goal" was ever scored. It can only correct the bad call and confirm the goal -- if the whistle blows after the ball crosses the goal line.

3. Referees will learn to delay their call, or will they? That rub -- working on not negating the review of a possible goal because the whistle came before the ball crossed the line -- requires that the referee (and his assistants) judiciously delay their calls when they see obvious goalscoring situations. But will they? That goes against their instructions not to change how they call a game.



4. VAR is only as good as the number of cameras or angles it has to work with. VAR is limited to looking at plays shown by the cameras the broadcasters are using -- and also the camera placements. Since the goal is to fix “clear and obvious mistakes," VAR won't overturn offside calls if there is no angle good enough to meet the “clear and obvious" standard.

5. Teams will quickly learn how to play the system. Generally, VAR can't be applied once play has restarted. We already saw it at the Confederations Cup: players instructed by their benches to restart play quickly if they think a play might go against them on review. And the reverse: hold up if they believe the referee needs time to get the message that a play might need to be changed.

6. VAR will clean up those messy situations on penalty kicks. VAR will be an extra set of eyes for all those situations referees and their assistants miss on penalty kicks -- goalkeepers blatantly moving off their lines before the kick and players encroaching into the area.

7. Some yellow cards can be rescinded but those for dissent won't. Let's say a player goes down in the area, a penalty kick is awarded and the defender is issued a yellow card. On review, it is determined the attacking player wasn't fouled. No penalty kick -- and the yellow card is rescinded. But add this touch: the defender is so incensed by the original call he is issued a second yellow card and red carded. The yellow card for dissent can't be overturned. At least he isn't sent off, assuming he had not been carded before.

8. The MLS disciplinary committee's role still needs to be determined. MLS's disciplinary committee acts, now after the fact, to clean up calls that should have been made during the game. VAR should have a big impact, making the right call -- in-game -- on red-card situations and eliminating the need for that crazy MLS statistic -- team that had most opposing players red carded after the fact and therefore was unfairly prevented from playing with extra men. The MLS disciplinary committee will still have to decide about adding additional games to automatic red-card suspensions. The only situation it might review a referee's decision after the fact -- the referee has the final say in any VAR situation during a game -- is if a missed call was "egregious" and would warrant a multiple-game suspension.

9. Mistaken identity can apply to the opposing team. Mistaken identity applies to the awarding of yellow card or red cards. You usually think of it in terms of the referee getting numbers mixed up and awarding a card to an offender's teammate. But VAR can overturn a yellow or red card if it turns out the foul -- say a handball -- was committed by the opposing team.

10. VAR won't review restarts. How far back will VAR go on a goal sequence? It won't go back to a restart, ie. it will negate a goal for a foul on the attacking phase of play but it won't negate a goal for a foul throw-in or free kick kicked from the wrong spot.

11. VAR will review multiple incidents in a sequence. VAR could determine that a disputed penalty was indeed a penalty -- but that penalty can be negated by a foul by the attacking team earlier in the play. VAR could determine a red card was committed for DOGSO but it is negated because the attacking player was offside. But a red card for serious foul play isn't negated by offside.

12. VAR could award a penalty kick at one end, negating its own award of a penalty kick at the other end. Crazy, hey?

7 comments about "Get ready for the week of VAR in MLS".
  1. Albert Harris, July 31, 2017 at 12:01 p.m.

    This is going to be a disaster. Goal line technology in some form or another, yes. VAR...no, no, a thousand times no!

  2. John Soares, July 31, 2017 at 1:13 p.m.

    And so it begins. More reasons for arguments and disagreements. Make the game better....I don't think so.

  3. PJ , August 1, 2017 at 3:32 a.m.

    The first thing VAR should do is go back and reverse the clearly erroneous offside call that took away a legitimate goal by the Timbers against Houston on Saturday!

  4. :: SilverRey ::, August 1, 2017 at 9:32 a.m.

    I've got a bad feeling about this...

  5. frank schoon, August 1, 2017 at 9:36 a.m.

    This will open up a Pandoras Box of unwanted, unforeseen problems which only reminds me of the PC Culture when it began and look what we have now. I remember we were going to solve so many of the problems by adding an extra ref by the goal...that's a joke! for have you seen how fouls continuous occur inside the penalty box during corner kicks that are never called. Michael Bradley is right on, on this one....

  6. beautiful game, August 1, 2017 at 10:13 a.m.

    Will the referee's be sanctioned if VAR proves their incompetence?

  7. frank schoon, August 1, 2017 at 10:31 a.m.

    I w, it is scary, just reading everyones varied opinions on this VAR. That ,in itself,should be foreboding as to what are we really getting into.

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