By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (April 19, 2021) US Footballers – It was the kind of technology that would change the game forever. It would end all debate and usher in an era of fairness. As with all new technologies and innovations, the promises are often greater than the reality. The widespread use of the Video Assistant Referee, commonly known as VAR, over the past two years has received very mixed reviews.

Back in March 2019, the International Football Association Board approved the use of VAR and officially wrote it in the rules of the game. MLS has been using VAR since late 2017, the first national league in the world to test the technology. FIFA successfully tested it at the 2018 World Cup. The next step was the Champions League and domestic leagues across Europe.

A few years ago it was agreed that VAR would help eliminate human error and end debates about missed calls. Instead, in some cases, their use has tightened them after a series of questionable decisions. Almost every week brings a new controversy.

Play-by-play voice Ian Darke wrote on ESPN.com earlier this year that VAR has become too much of a talking point. “The original idea of ​​VAR was good: prevent serious legal errors, help referees under pressure, and produce a better game. But that laudable goal has been lost. It has become way too intrusive, which is why FIFA needs to rethink the way forward. “

How can America’s top flight avoid such pitfalls with a new MLS season? Former Premier League and World Cup referee Howard Webb, who oversees the organization of professional referees overseeing the MLS match officers, said all referees will visit the sideline screen to review the games. In England, for example, referees don’t often see games from a side monitor. This reduces the time per check by up to 90 seconds.

“We believe we ultimately want the umpire to be the final decision maker in all cases,” Webb said during an April 12 panel discussion on Zoom about what MLS umpires will be doing this season. “It works for us.” Webb said that when referees consult a monitor, “emphasize to the stadium audience that the review is taking place…. They (fans) can see the process playing out in front of them, ”he added.

The most controversial VAR decisions were made on offside and handballs. For example, the half shoulder offsides call is only visible when checked. The subject of handball is an intent that is often overlooked in order to impose a penalty. The IFAB changed the rules of the game to address a handball’s intent before the 2019-20 season, but it remains an issue.

Still, Webb said VAR was very effective in MLS. Compared to the 2019 season with the previous year, MLS reduced the length of the reviews by eight seconds. In situations where verification is possible, such as: B. Off a goal scored, accuracy increased from 93% in 2019 to 98.5% last year. Major League Soccer’s opening weekend didn’t have big VAR moments, but that’s not enough for a sample size.

PRO also introduced something called “Match Official Assessors” to provide feedback to the referees after the games. Alan Black, Head of Coaching, Education and Evaluation at PRO, has been working on improving the official standards since 2018 and also heads the Assessor program.

“Over the past three years the evaluation panel has gone through an extensive rebuilding program,” he recently told PRO’s official website. “This is an aspect of the office that people traditionally don’t talk about much.” The panel – made up of 30 ex-referees from around the world – “plays an important role in its development,” added Black.

The use of VAR will expand to North America and the Caribbean in the coming year, including the later rounds of the Concacaf Champions League and Nations League and the Gold Cup this summer. Over the past year, 23 of the region’s top referees and assistant referees learned how VAR can be implemented in both the field and the test bench before broader adoption.

Just check out the Concacaf Champions League opening round for examples of what the game looks like without immediate replay. Toronto missed a goal against Leon in the 29th minute last week, which VAR would probably have decided well. Toronto won the game and series, but it’s a clear indication of the need for a video review. Football at all levels is about dynamism. Bad calls kill that even as the aggreived team recovers.

The best VAR can do is improve accuracy, but that still depends on interpretation. Even with the notable calls added by instant playback that probably shouldn’t have happened, that doesn’t mean it is lacking in value. Instead, it’s still an ongoing process. Major League Soccer is helping to take the lead, and that’s a good thing.

Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US footballers. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018.

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