Major League Soccer Should Run from VAR

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MLS wants to be the league that gets Video Assistant Referee right. But they’re playing with fire and should abort the mission. 

America’s top division will introduce VAR mid-season, after the League’s 2017 All-Stars face Real Madrid on August 2nd in Chicago. It’s a risky move for a league that’s still fighting for respect at home and abroad. I mean let’s be honest, after the first round of games at the Confederations Cup, VAR is a toxic product.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber must be watching and wondering what kind of viral headlines MLS + VAR will produce in just a few months. Do you think MLS referees will be VAR-trained and ready for showtime come August?

At just 21 years of age, MLS doesn’t have the equity to gamble on a half-baked idea like VAR. I understand that Don Garber wants to show the world that MLS is forward-thinking and tech-friendly. I get that. But he’s putting the League’s rising reputation at stake by randomly implementing VAR six months into the season. 

In March, Garber told a crowd at SXSW to expect growing pains, as both referees and fans familiarize themselves with FIFA’s complex and often ambiguous VAR guidelines. But how patient will fans be if MLS continues where FIFA left off in Russia? We’ll find out soon enough.

Before Atlanta United’s inaugural game on March 5, I spotted former World Cup referee Howard Webb at Bobby Dodd Stadium. I shouted, “Mr. Webb!” as he walked past me. He responded with a cordial, “Hello.” At first I thought it was a random sighting, but then I remembered why he was stateside.

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The Professional Referees Organization (PRO) hired Webb as Manager of VAR Operations. PRO oversees referee programs in professional soccer leagues in the U.S. and Canada, and they’ve been experimenting with VAR in America’s lower divisions and regional youth tournaments.

Howard Webb is a well-respected former FIFA and Premier League referee that’s handled some massive games, including the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands.

Spain’s golden generation were crowned world champions after Andres Iniesta’s extra-time winner, but no one can forget Nigel De Jong karate kicking Xabi Alonso in the 25th minute.

De Jong was inexplicably warned with a just yellow card, even though billions of people watching around the world knew it was an obvious sending off.

During Webb’s press tour in April, he told ESPN FC that VAR would’ve helped him reverse that decision. He also said, “I just didn’t get a good view of it”, inferring that he wasn’t properly positioned to make the correct call in the first half of a World Cup final. I sound like I’m judging, and you’re right. I am.

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I’m not buying the story FIFA’s trying to sell. They want us to believe that video replay will help referees make better decisions and that it won’t disrupt the tempo of the game. Yet all it’s done is confuse referees and disrupt the tempo and flow of the game.

And now Major League Soccer wants to be the hero of the VAR horror show that we’ve all been witness to. Because that’s the American way, right? Swoop in and solve a global conflict as the rest of the world sits back and takes notes. 

Wise-old Warren Buffett warned us that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and just five minutes to ruin it. @MLS, it’s not too late rethink your VAR strategy.





2 thoughts on “Major League Soccer Should Run from VAR

  1. Hi

    I agree that MLS might not be ready for VAR.

    But I think this tecnology should be implemented in all FIFA official tournaments. I think that the extra time the games could get for the Referee looking into the screen is a low price for the goods of it.

    This is something that have shuould been implemented long time ago. But i think FIFA must be clear about in what situation the VAR is going to be used and not in any time or any play. For example, just uncertain goals and faults (specially if the fault is a penalty kick) for now is a good start. In offsides is not a good idea to user VAR yet then we should continue trusting the line referee call.

    Theres a couple of situations that had could been different with VAR on the Colombia vs Brasil match in 2014 when Colombia got eliminated. The Goal of Mario Alberto Yepes that was dismiss because a hand fault that did not exsit. And the fault that also did not exist when David Luis scored the second goal that put Colombia out of the tournament.


    • Nestor, you bring up some interesting points. There’s nothing wrong with new technology. But FIFA has to do a better job of in how they implement it. It won’t be embraced immediately-fans and players resist change. We’ll see what happens.


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