Video replay in MLS met with VARiable success

When video assistant refereeing was implemented in Major League Soccer back in August, it was meant to provide a way for officials to ensure making the correct call in what was referred to as “high-leverage” situation.

So far, the addition of VAR has met its fair share of successes and failures. It has left many questioning whether it is truly necessary for MLS and whether it does more to help or hinder the sport.

Within a week of instituting the system, VAR caused controversy. Orlando City midfielder Kaka, one of the faces of MLS, was sent off for what was considered violent conduct.

The match between Orlando City and the New York Red Bulls began to get rough in second-half stoppage time. Kaka entered a scrum of players and squeezed the face of former teammate Aurelien Collin. The gesture was meant as a joke, yet the VAR failed to see the fun behind it and issued a red card on Kaka.

Collin, along with several Orlando players, tried to plead the case for Kaka to stay in the match only for it to fall on deaf ears. Despite the clear purpose of the action being in jest, the red card and suspension were upheld.

Another incident involving Orlando came on September 27 against the New England Revolution. In the 11th minute, New England’s Xavier Kouassi was called for a foul against Orlando’s Seb Hines. Despite Kouassi winning the ball, he sent Seb Hines to the ground on the follow-through.

After the foul was initially called against Kouassi, the ref went to video review and was forced to send off the Revs’ midfielder. Less than 48 hours after, an independent panel rescinded the red card.

With video review meant only to look at “clear and obvious errors” in these types of situations, the system was misused and proven wrong; an utter embarrassment for the newly-implemented system.

Despite several noteworthy failures in VAR’s short-lived tenure, there have been some very practical uses of the technology. Within the first month of video review, a match between Los Angeles and Columbus saw VAR come into play three times in ten minutes – all of which yielded the correct call.

The first review upheld a red card to LA defender Ashley Cole for denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity. The second confirmed a penalty for the Crew with a foul occurring on the line of the 18-yard box.

The third reflects, perhaps, the main reason why VAR was implemented in the first place. A Galaxy goal was called back after replays showed Joao Pedro was offside when he got the final touch.

CAN VAR BE USED PROPERLY?

The common theme of VAR so far in its four-month existence has been its abundance. In every match, it seems video review is put into use at least once and in some cases far too much.

Take the LA match for example. The first use of VAR wasn’t even necessary as the right call had been made. Meanwhile, the third incident was the completely correct use of the system. On plays like that, an error in officiating occurs simply because the play happened quickly.

Such things as offsides can sometimes be difficult to see in real time. The same can be said about issues like determining whether a foul was inside the penalty area. VAR is absolutely necessary for these situations.

As for using VAR for red card fouls, it should be similar to video review for a flagrant foul in the NBA. If its worthy of a red card, then give a red. But if it falls just short of a red card, it should be possible to simply assess a yellow.

In the incident with Xavier Kouassi, a yellow card following video review would’ve been completely fine. Many even feel that the play wasn’t even a foul. But in a situation early in a match with major implications, a referee should be able to give a yellow after consulting VAR. This makes it possible to not uproot a match early on.

Whatever the future of VAR brings, hopefully, it turns out better than it has been so far.