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VAR at the World Cup cemented its place in our soccer brains

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Feel how you will about Video Assistant Referee, but this summer’s World Cup changed how we feel when we watch club soccer.

That’s not a slight or a compliment to the tournament, which was in fact quite amazing, but rather a deep dive into that word: Feel.

V-A-R, you guys.

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While review wasn’t perfect at the World Cup in Russia — cough, Aleksandar Mitrovic versus Switzerland, cough — it cut down on red cards and was a part of the most exciting tournament in some time (perhaps ever).

And on opening weekend in the Premier League it was hard to not find yourself, for better or worse, thinking that the lack of video review played a role in some clubs earning and losing valuable points (They’re worth the same in August as they are in April, you know?).

Consider:

— Saints forward Danny Ings nearly earned a winning debut on his homecoming, only for the should-be penalty call to not arrive at St. Mary’s.

Mamadou Sakho takes down Fulham’s Andre Schurrle in the box, no PK, with Crystal Palace leading 1-0 en route to a 2-0 win over the Cottagers.

Moussa Sissoko stepping on the leg of Kenedy before halftime of Spurs’ 2-1 win at Newcastle (in front of referee Martin Atkinson for what it’s worth).

This wasn’t an unusual weekend for controversial plays at all, and certainly soccer has survived and thrived for years with plenty of human error.

But after a World Cup with an unusually low number of red cards — presumably because players knew there was an eye in the sky — and high amount of correctly awarded penalties, it’s going to take some time to get used to human error again.

That’s fine. Again, we’ve done it this way for years and can continue to do so for a long, long time. But it’s going to be interesting to see if we ever feel like the genie is back in the bottle.

VAR paves way for Marseille’s 4-0 victory in season opener

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PARIS (AP) Marseille crushed Toulouse 4-0 on Friday as the French league season opened with a video assistant refereeing (VAR) decision leading to the first goal.

Attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet scored in each half, with his penalty on the stroke of halftime awarded after a video review. Striker Valere Germain added a third goal, while winger Florian Thauvin struck two minutes into injury time.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 2-1 Leicester City ]

Alerted by VAR officials that defender Kelvin Amian had blocked a cross with his hand, Ruddy Buquet checked the images. Having initially signaled a corner, the referee changed his mind and pointed to the spot.

Payet, who missed France’s World Cup title victory last month after being injured in the Europa League final, sent goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet the wrong way.

He netted again in the 62nd minute with a neat volley after Reynet had blocked Bouna Sarr’s angled shot.

“The ball came to me quickly, I just tried to guide it in,” Payet told Canal Plus television. “The end of last season was quite hard for me … so I just want to enjoy myself and start the season well.”

Payet completely controlled the game and sent Germain clean through with a defense-splitting pass in the 75th minute but Reynet saved well.

Payet got an ovation from the Stade Velodrome crowd when he was replaced by Thauvin – a member of France’s World Cup squad – in the 82nd minute.

Germain then expertly controlled midfielder Morgan Sanson’s pass and curled the ball past Reynet in the 89th minute before Thauvin skillfully flicked the ball up with his heel and slotted in from close range to complete the rout.

Marseille finished fourth last season and missed out on a Champions League playoff spot by one point.

Jerome Pugmire is at http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

FIFA: World Cup video reviews have been 99.3 percent correct

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MOSCOW (AP) — FIFA says video reviews are “close to perfection” at the first World Cup to use the system, claiming 99.3 percent of “match-changing” plays were called correctly.

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Don’t tell that to some of the coaches still angry about a few penalties, fouls or cards that were or weren’t handed out.

The system has had a major impact, with seven penalties awarded using the Video Assistant Referee system. Two goals were given after being initially ruled offside, including one by South Korea that helped to eliminate world champion Germany.

FIFA’s referee committee head Pierluigi Collina claimed Friday that 99.3 percent of “match-changing” decisions were called correctly at the World Cup — “very, very close to perfection” — based on assessments by him and other senior ex-referees. Without VAR, the figure would be 95 percent, Collina said.

That missing 0.7 percent in Collina’s statistic is still bitterly contentious.

Serbia’s coach suggested a referee should be sent to a war-crimes tribunal when his team didn’t get a penalty after two Swiss defenders appeared to hold Aleksandar Mitrovic in the penalty area . English media complained about Tunisian defenders grappling with England striker Harry Kane.

Collina didn’t address those plays directly, but suggested they prompted a warning to referees to be stricter about holding in the penalty area.

[ MORE: 10 best goals of the group stage ]

“I think you might have appreciated that at a certain point of the group phase there were some incidents which suddenly disappeared,” he said. “We had some holdings and they almost disappeared, but if they continued they were punished with the corresponding decision.”

That’s an example of the refereeing system being “fine-tuned,” Collina said.

VAR means players and viewers expect more from referees. FIFA’s head of refereeing Massimo Busacca expressed frustration about the interest in errors. “Today you are asking to be God, perfect,” he said. “Who is perfect in this life?”

On the whole, FIFA views VAR’s rollout as a success.

Before the World Cup, there were concerns about referees who hadn’t used the system before, about slower games and pedantic rulings on minor fouls. However, FIFA says the ball has been in play for longer than at the last World Cup and total fouls are down through 48 games.

The VAR crews, wearing full referee kit in a darkened room on the outskirts of Moscow, are urged to view incidents at normal speed so they aren’t too harsh on slight contact between players. They can use slow-motion to find the point of contact, but normal speed to decide how serious it was.

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“Everything with slow-mo or super slow-mo seems bigger, seems tougher, seems more deliberate,” Collina said. “Football is a sport where contact doesn’t mean a foul.”

The VAR crews have examined 335 incidents — 6.9 per game — including all the goals, but flagged only 17 for formal review. Fourteen decisions were changed and three were upheld.

Collina said he hopes for VAR discussions between referees and the control room to be part of TV broadcasts in future. However, FIFA’s deputy secretary general Zvonimir Boban immediately pushed back against that idea, saying the mix of languages at the World Cup could make it “impossible” for broadcasters.

The more VAR is used, the more players demand it. Players and coaches are constantly drawing a TV screen with their fingers at this World Cup, but Collina said referees should only book players if it’s meant to be “disrespectful.”

Referees themselves aren’t allowed to speak with reporters, but FIFA says they welcome VAR.

“In some situations, I prayed a lot when something occurred. I said ‘My God, what happened?’ And then, at the end I was lucky in very difficult circumstances. Sometimes I decided without seeing, only made an interpretation from distance,” said Busacca, who had a long refereeing career including two World Cups.

“What we want to give to the referees is this big opportunity not to be lucky.”

SKC, Crew SC play to 0-0 draw; VAR steals the show (again)

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — The game in 100 words (or less): Nothing ruins a good game of soccer more than controversies involving the referee — and now that VAR is active within MLS, yet another failure of the video-review system to correct the most “clear and obvious” of wrong decisions. There is no longer any rhyme or reason in deciding whether or not to utilize what could be a very helpful tool. Check the third video further down this page to comprehend the absurdity of VAR in Sporting Kansas City’s 0-0 draw with Columbus Crew SC on Sunday. As for the actual soccer which was played, Tim Melia made one save to deny Gyasi Zardes with a point-blank header early in the first half, and a second to deny Zardes rom the penalty spot just before halftime. Despite being a back-and-forth affair between the league’s second- and third-place teams with a chance to take the lead in the Supporters’ Shield race, there were just six shots on target in total and genuine scoring chances were few and far between.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype ]

Three moments that mattered

43′ — Zardes wins a PK, but Melia makes the save — Melia was responsible for giving away the penalty kick, and he more than made up for it by denying Zardes moments later.

45+6′ — Higuain puts studs into Espinoza, sees red — Originally not called a foul, changed to a red card following video review. On the softer side of red cards (just an opinion).

59′ — Martinez takes a swing at Sinovic, but no video review — At this point, it’s just time to disband the entire VAR experiment. It’s turned MLS into a clown show and an embarrassment. Signed, someone who was initially in favor of VAR, assuming MLS would utilize it properly.

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Man of the match: Tim Melia

Goalscorers: None

MLS roundup: ATL’s unbeaten run at 7; TFC implode vs. Chicago

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A roundup of, plus a few quick thoughts about, all of Saturday’s action from Week 9 of the 2018 MLS season…

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

Atlanta United 4-1 Montreal ImpactFULL HIGHLIGHTS

The Atlanta United buzzsaw couldn’t be runner smoother, as Tata Martino’s side improved to seven games unbeaten (six wins) with a 4-1 comeback victory over Montreal on Saturday. After going a goal behind in the 13th minute, Atlanta initially struggled to string together passes and create even a handful of half-chances. The same was true for 10 or 15 minutes of the second half before Miguel Almiron found his footing and started to take over.

The Paraguayan, like most of his teammates, finishes games stronger than he starts them, and Saturday’s two-goal performance was more of the same from the 24-year-old (he’s got 6 goals and 4 assists after eight games — he’ll be a finalist for MVP, if he sticks around past the summer transfer window). There comes a moment in just about every Atlanta game, when you can practically see their opponents’ will to continue fighting the unrelenting press and wave after wave of attacks leave their bodies, to a man. To that point, 13 of Atlanta’s league-leading 21 goals this season have been scored after the 60-minute mark.

On Saturday, Almiron netted in the 70th and 84th minute, with a pair of fantastic free kicks coming from Kevin Kratz shortly after each of Almiron’s goals.

Toronto FC 2-2 Chicago FireFULL HIGHLIGHTS

TFC returned home and responded to their CONCACAF Champions League heartbreak in the most encouraging of ways… for a brief period, which saw the Reds build a 2-0 lead after 22 minutes (Jonathan Osorio and Victor Vazquez), only to cough it up in the game’s final 25 minutes and lose a pair of much-needed points. In truth, they were quite fortunate to escape with the solitary point they managed to hold onto.

Bastian Schweinsteiger had his penalty kick effort saved by Alex Bono in the 38th minute, but the German superstar finally beat Bono in the 69th minute. Still, Greg Vanney’s side clung to its narrow lead until the final minute of stoppage time, when Alan Gordon swept home a bouncing, un-cleared ball inside TFC’s penalty area.

It’s completely understandable — and borderline expected — that TFC would come out with a sense of urgency and desperation before rapidly fading down the stretch. In that sense, the coming week will be a massive relief as it represents the season’s first period of normalcy — the chance return to a more manageable one-game routine in the coming weeks.

LA Galaxy 2-3 New York Red BullsFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Where in the world do we start with this game? There are so many ways to approach it.

There’s the obvious: the Galaxy fell 2-0 behind after failing to show up for the game’s opening 45 minutes, then came roaring back courtesy of Ola Kamara and Giovani dos Santos, then threw it all away again very late on, and lost 3-2. For the brief 10-minute period midway through the second half, Sigi Schmid’s side even looked as though they had spent all week preparing to play on Saturday.

There’s also the up-and-down performances of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was little more than a passenger for the entirety of the first half, before dropping a dime to Kamara and kickstarting LA’s comeback in the 59th minute.

Finally, there’s the dead horse (here and here): VAR remains an unmitigated dumpster fire. The threshold of a “clear and obvious error” continues to befuddle not only the league’s referees in their application of the video-review system, but also the league’s fans in their understanding why referees do and don’t utilize the tool. For example, New York were awarded a penalty in the 84th minute after the ball appeared to have struck the arm of Dave Romney. Upon viewing the television broadcast’s replay, the ball appeared to have hit Romney much higher on his arm (perhaps even his shoulder) than first viewing indicated. Allen Chapman didn’t review the call on the field, and Alejandro Romero scored the game-winning goal with six minutes of regular time remaining.

Elsewhere in MLS

New England Revolution 1-0 Sporting Kansas City — HIGHLIGHTS
Philadelphia Union 3-2 D.C. United — HIGHLIGHTS
Columbus Crew SC 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes — HIGHLIGHTS
Minnesota United 2-1 Houston Dynamo — HIGHLIGHTS