In a conference call with media, Webb, General Manager of PRO (Professional Referee Organization), announced that this season's Four Points of Emphasis will be a continuation of those from 2017, while PRO Video Review Operations Manager Greg Barkey addressed the league's use of VAR.
VAR Year 2
MLS introduced Video Assistant Referee midway through last season and it was used in 154 games. Nearly 1,500 incidents were checked and reviews -- interventions that stop the play -- occurred 50 times, about one every three games. Thirty-two errors were corrected during reviews.
"In the offseason, we improved our training of our referees and our VAR so you will expect to see the referees be much clearer in the signals that they use," Barkey said. "Especially if they are going to overturn an on-field decision. Much clearer so everyone understands where the new restart is after a changed play."
Barkey emphasized that just because the game isn't stopped for a review doesn't mean VAR hasn't taken a look.
"Every play is being checked automatically in the background," said Barkey, referring to what are known as silent checks. "If a player falls down in the penalty area, you can be assured the VAR is going to look and see why he fell down. If someone is injured, there's a hard tackle -- it's always going to be looked at. It happens automatically.
"Just because you don't see the referee with his finger to his ear and holding the play does not mean it's not being checked. That signal is for when the VAR is not finished checking the video."
VAR is used for goalscoring situations, potential red-card decisions, penalty-kick situations and cases of mistaken identity on yellow and red cards.
Only one change has been made in VAR protocol -- for reviewing violent conduct (a red-card offense).
"In the case of violent conduct -- spitting, elbowing, that type of egregious behavior -- it doesn't matter if there's been a restart," Barkey said. "Any time that violent conduct is seen by the VAR it can be acted on by the VAR and the referee."
Four Points of Emphasis for 2018
• Visual dissent
• Holding and pushing in the penalty area
• Persistent infringement
• Delaying restart and time-wasting
"The idea of the Points of Emphasis is to try and deal with some of the things that happen in our game that if dealt with can make our game more attractive," said Webb. "And they're pretty much in line with what we saw last year."
Webb said that yellow cards for dissent increased by 8 percent in 2017.
"We understand and expect emotion from our game," said Webb. "But we have to draw the line in terms of those actions that undermine the authority of referee. Those clear actions where the players in a prolonged way, in a sustained way react to a decision -- running toward the referee, waving arms toward the referee, clearly shouting in an aggressive manner."
On persistent infringement, 2017 saw a 59 percent increase in cautions related to players committing repeated offenses that are not per se yellow-card offenses. The caution for persistent offenses can also apply to teams taking a rotation approach to fouling opponents.
What constitutes persistent offenses is left to the judgment of the referee; the FIFA rulebook does not provide a specific number or define a pattern of offenses.
"We want the flair players in our league to excel," said Webb. "We're asking our officials to continue being proactive to deal persistent infringement."
Delay of game cautions increased by 39 percent in 2017, but Webb said MLS has had year-by-year decreases in effective playing. Referees are being asked to continue cracking down on delay of game violations- - such as kicking a ball away before a free kick or teams in the lead taking extra time to take a goal kick -- and will be evaluated on how effectively they add stoppage time for delays such as injuries, substitutions and VAR use.
"There has been a tradition of referees adding 30 seconds for a substitution," he said. "But if a substitution takes longer, because a player walking off very slowly, than the lost time must be added."
On overly aggressive goalkeeping
In February, FIFA's Medical Committee recommended to FIFA's Referees' Committee to take action against overly aggressive goalkeepers -- that referees apply the current rules to goalkeepers as they do to field players.
"We've been monitoring that situation ourselves," said Webb. "It's not made it into the Points of Emphasis. At the moment, we don't see it as such a big problem here. However, the officials are being told to be vigilant and firm in terms of challenges by goalkeepers that are deemed worthy of being penalized and in the same way that an outfield player is. … So part of the visits with our 23 member clubs included video examples of that type of situation where a goalkeeper maybe gets there just late, we're saying now that's a penalty kick. It's not longer acceptable for goalkeepers to dominate their penalty area by foul means.
"I think traditionally there has not been an equal interpretation of those types of situations by referees, not only here, but across the world. I think maybe because of that we've seen greater instances of injuries happening in those situations. … I think the ultimate decision would have to be made by the referee as to whether or not the actions of the goalkeeper would be deemed reckless and if they're leading with the knee and driving it towards an opponent -- then that has got to be judged as either reckless or excessive force depending on how much force is used in that particular situation.
"On the flip side of that, if outfield players make contact with goalkeepers when they could avoid it with a goalkeeper who's going down on the ground to collect a ball low, then the goalkeeper will be protected in that situation as well and the Video Assistant Referee, when it's clear and obvious, will intervene, and certainly I know the MLS Disciplinary Committee will be vigilant on both sides of this coin in terms of challenges with goalkeepers."