MLS to start using VAR this weekend. What can we expect?

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Ah, it’s been about a month or so since we’ve complained about Video Assistant Referees (VAR).

Time to start flexing your frowns once again, folks.

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VARs will come in to Major League Soccer for the round of games on Aug. 5-6, after the All-Star Game on Aug. 2 in Chicago which marks the traditional midway point of the season.

It will be used for all of the remaining MLS games, plus MLS Cup playoffs and MLS Cup itself.

Your first comment is probably something along the lines of: ‘why the heck is this happening halfway through a season?’

Yeah, I’m with you, especially as decisions in the opening half of the MLS season obviously weren’t scrutinized in the same way, leading to plenty of points either falling by the wayside or gained advantageously by teams. But we don’t live in an ideal world and here we are.

Still, it’s happening, so let’s see what we can expect from the biggest set of VAR tests. The video below from the folks at MLSsoccer.com — featuring Howard Webb who is now the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) manager of VAR operations — does a great job at explaining everything and here are the main takeaways to remember.

  • At each MLS game a VAR (fifth official) will be located in a booth and have access to all available broadcast replays
  • VARs can only help on decisions involving goals, direct red cards, penalty kick and mistaken identity
  • VARs will be able to talk with the referee via a communications system and suggest a review of an incident
  • The referee can then either re-watch the incident on a sideline monitor or apply the VARs decision to keep or overturn the decision
  • If there is a stoppage of play following the incident and then lay restarts, the incident cannot be checked and play must go on

MLS will have the eyes of the world on it to see exactly how this system works over an elongated period of time. We all saw the issues at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia which led to many pundits and fans calling for it to be shelved ahead of the 2018 World Cup next summer.

How well it works in MLS could have a huge bearing in how VAR is implemented in Russia next summer, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino insisting it will be used.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) will be reviewing all of the findings in MLS over the next four to five months before then deciding when to update the laws of the game.

MLS has always been available to be the guinea pig of the soccer world with the foam spray used by refs introduced in North America’s top-flight, plus goal-line technology and more. So far, so good.

There are plenty of VAR skeptics out there following the Confed Cup this summer, but maybe MLS can help ease some of that worry for soccer purists.