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MLS named as trial league for Video Assistant Referee system

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MLS joins leagues from Brazil, Germany and Australia in testing process.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Progress towards the use of a FIFA-sanctioned, real-time video review system for referees slowly continues. Major League Soccer announced Thursday that the league will be working with the International Football Association Board in the next phase of testing for the Video Assistant Referee project.

"We believe the time has come for a mechanism that helps referees avoid clearly incorrect decisions that change the game. We look forward to working with The IFAB and FIFA to test video assistance for our referees," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. MLS joins Australia’s A-League, Germany’s Bundesliga and Brazil’s Campeonato Brasileiro, among others, in the trial process.

If you haven't been following this story, MLS has been vocal about their interest in video replay for some time. Garber called FIFA's support for video challenges "music to [his] ears" in 2014, while also volunteering to help with the testing process. In the following years, MLS and other leagues performed 'offline trials,' which were done without communicating with the officiating staff or affecting calls, in order to show that the review could be carried out in a manner that didn't interrupt the flow of the game. For this reason the trials did not review offsides or yellow card decisions, only those related to penalties, red cards, goals or cases of mistaken identity.

In 2014 Garber's descriptions of the system mentioned coaches being able to challenge a referee's call, but the testing approved by the IFAB (soccer's rule-governing body) leaves the choice to use the system in officials' hands. It works more or less like this: A Video Assistant Referee is watching the game using software that allows nearly immediate review of the video from every angle. The center referee asks for help on a call, or the video official offers it (this is limited to the four situations mentioned above). Once the VARs have given their opinion, the center ref can take it at face value or choose to go to the sideline to review the play his or herself on a tablet device.

FIFA has put together a graphic to make this process even clearer, and you can see the system at work in this video from the program's kick-off workshop.

MLS, USL and the Professional Referees Association are working together to prepare for trials at USL matches this summer in both MLS and USL stadiums, and plan on following that up with testing at MLS games. The IFAB also floated the possibility of performing tests during the Club World Club in Japan in December; although that isn't set in stone.

MLS officials will continue to take part in the IFAB workshops this year as testing goes on. The trial process should run over the next two years, with further decisions on implementation set for 2018 or 2019.