VAR goes live this week: Here’s what you need to know

Major League Soccer is about to enter a new era of officiating. Yes, after much discussion and hype, video replay will come online in live games this weekend. Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is being launched with the hope of fixing obvious, game-changing mistakes.

It’s a bold and admirable goal that will, no doubt, be fraught with debate. We’ve already seen the system used at the Confederations Cup and in the Australian top flight to varying degrees of success.

But before it’s unveiled, we should probably do our best to simply understand how it will work. The video attached above answers most of the questions you’ll probably have, but assuming you don’t want to spend an hour watching it, we’ve summed up the key points here:

What kinds of plays can be reviewed?

There are only four types of plays that will be reviewable: Goals, red cards, penalties and mistaken identity. If a play doesn’t fit into one of those boxes, the play can’t be reviewed.

How will replays work?

Every game will be monitored by an official watching replays in real time. If they think a mistake has been made that fits into one of the four reviewable categories, they’ll alert the official on the field who can choose to ignore it, accept the recommendation, or review the play themselves. If a “clear and obvious” error has been deemed to be made, the call will be changed. Either way, the on-field referee will have the final say.

How long does a referee have to make the call?

In conducting studies during live USL games, MLS officials claim only about a 1 minute, 16 seconds has been added to games with review. It was also said that only about a quarter of games ended up having a play reviewed, and based on the information MLS provided, it was unclear if the stoppage was in all games or only in the ones where a review happened. I’m a little skeptical reviews will be this frequent or that interruptions will be this small, but time will obviously tell.

When does the review need to happen?

If there’s a stoppage of play, the review must happen before the ball has been put back into play. Referees will need to signal that a play is under review and stop play. Once play has resumed, the play is no longer reviewable. If there isn’t a stoppage of play immediately following the play, referees are asked to use reasonable discretion as to how long has transpired before allowing for the review.

How does it work once a play is under review?

One interesting twist is that the final play is not the only part of the review. The entire “attacking sequence” can be reviewed. That means that if a foul should have stopped a play from happening before it resulted in a goal, the goal can be disallowed. That goes for penalties too.

It sounds like this will pull more goals off the board than put them on ...

Yeah, it does seem that way. Chances are, we’ll have more disallowed goals than vice versa, but it can work the other way. One example of this was the goal the Sounders had in a late-season road game against FC Dallas that was ultimately disallowed for a phantom foul on Roman Torres. Since the whistle blew after the goal had been scored, that play could be reviewed. Similarly, if a goal is disallowed for offside, it can be reviewed if the whistle came after the ball crossed the goal line.

Will referees be instructed to hold their whistles longer?

Not explicitly. Referees are being asked to call the game exactly as they would otherwise, but human nature being what it is, you’d like to think that referees will be a bit more careful at least when it comes to bang-bang offside calls.

Are they adding goal-line technology too?

Nope. Unless goal-line cameras happen to be part of the broadcast, we’re not going to get truly definitive angles that show whether or not a shot crossed the line in many instances. Some calls will still be obvious enough — that one in Kansas City was used as an example — but this is most definitely not the same goal-line technology that we see in the World Cup or in some of the big European leagues.

What can’t be reviewed?

Frankly, most things. Throw-ins, fouls leading to free kicks, fouls that go uncalled, the vast majority of offsides, harsh yellow cards -- even those that result in ejection — are just some of the potentially significant calls that can’t be reviewed.

Why is it going live now?

That’s a very good question. The best I can come up with is they wanted all this time to test it off line, but also wanted to go live as soon as it made sense. It does create some odd competitive questions though.

Is this going to be a disaster?

My prediction is that there will be some frustrations, mainly with the system’s limitations, early on. But once people get used to how this works, I suspect it will be a net positive. Every call won’t be right, but more of them will. That’s good.



Could someone explain what they mean by "mistaken identity"? It seems very nebulous and could pertain to any number of situations. Or at least with three specific in game reasons for a review this one stands out to me.

More Clarification.

I guess that one seems like it would only come up if one of the other three actually activated the review.

Case in point

When Ozzie was issued a yellow instead of Delem earlier this year against Toronto.

The big question is...

…how will Marrufo keep his years-long streak of no second yellows going if he can’t use mistaken identity as a tool to issue a card but keep a player on the field? Maybe he’ll just ignore even more than he does already.

Basically when card is given to the wrong person

Mistaken identity can only be a reason for review if a card is issued

If a yellow or red is issued to someone when the offense was committed by a different player, that can be reviewed and corrected.

Other issues involving things that seem like mistaken identity (e.g., a player being whistled for offsides when it was a different player who was in an offside position) are only reviewable in the context of the other areas of review (for instance if the not-offside player in that example goes on to score—and the whistle goes after the goal.)

Think of it like this

Link. Arsenal had Kieran Gibbs tossed in 2014 when it was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who should have been shown red for handball denial of goal. Alex pleaded with the ref even that it was him. Sometimes the ref doesn’t quite see it and doesn’t trust the players to tell them the truth. The ref eventually apologized to Arsenal for his mistake. This is what it’s directly for.

To be fair, I don't think the ref should trust the players in those situations

Yes, 90% (or more) of the time, the players are telling the truth, but you can imagine how hard done the other team would feel if Arsenal had been able to lobby the ref to get the wrong player sent off because it better suited them. Imagine, for instance, Felipe arguing to get sent off so that Brandon Wright-Phillips didn’t get sent off. But this is one circumstance where VAR should be an unequivocal improvement.

I did take out a line saying no ref would trust the players (I mean if we could say Shipp got a card instead of Dempsey, we would try lol)

This is the only recent memory I have of mistaken identity, to which the FA reversed and suspended AOC for the red and not Gibbs, but this is the exact example that would prompt this rule

Confederations cup

I don’t remember which game it happened in but I saw this in action. The ref gave a red card to the wrong player, eventually was notified of that by the VAR and he had to bring that guy back onto the field and kick the correct guy off.

VAR should be helpful to the sounders I think. I feel like we always suffer three times as many fouls as we commit and kind of get a raw deal like last weekend vs LAG. I’m sure it’ll bite us too, but if it’s legitimate who cares? It’ll just improve the game and players accountability.

It's usually two to one fouls suffered to committed

At least at the home games.

I’m hopeful that VAR will get a few of the more violent players sent off a few times, and then maybe the target on Lodeiro’s back will shrink a little.

By the way, nice Quark avatar.


Let’s hope VAR will be a very profitable venture!

So essentially if VAR will not be applicable to "fouls that go uncalled" or "harsh yellows" red cards can only be withdrawn not issued after the fact?

Offenses that merited straight red cards can be punished

So for example, the Jermaine Jones tackle from behind on Lodeiro, for which he received only a yellow card, could be reviewed, if the VAR thinks it should have been a straight red. If the VAR feels the video shows that a clear error was made in not showing the red, he can notify the ref and recommend a review. If the ref accepts the recommendation, he reviews the video and can choose to change his call, and show the red.

Unless I am misunderstanding the "What Can't be Reviewed?" section of the post this example would fall under the "harsh yellow" and thus not applicable to VAR?

Both straight reds called and reds that should have been called can be reviewed

If the VAR believes a red-card offense has occured

That is a reviewable play.

In that case,

The phrasing seems odd to me.

If it should have been a red, then it would be an incorrect call that would be reviewed and overturned. Very little room for a call that VAR says should be a red and the on-field ref sticks to the original call, reviewing but not overturning.

I'm not sure i follow

Not my strongest post.

Long-winded attempt to clarify.

The triggering event for a review is "the VAR believes a red-card offense has occurred."
The assumption from that is the on-field official does not believe a red card occurred because the call was not made.

This seems to indicate that there is a near certainty that the VAR review procedure will overturn/overrule the on field call.
The review procedure would then be initiated, but for missed red cards, that would seem to be a formality, given the VAR deems the offense red card worthy with the benefit of replays, hindsight and multiple angles (none of which the on-field official has). Of course the on-field referee has the ultimate discretion.

I’d imagine if a red card offense was missed, reviewed by VAR, and then no red card was issued there would be substantial uproar from supporters of the aggrieved side because at least one of the 5 officials involved in the match deemed the offense worthy of a red card.

I think this is generally right

To clarify, though, every goal, penalty, and straight red card is subject to review. In cases where the VAR sees a situation that could have been a straight red that wasn’t called, she can review that and, if it is a clear and obvious error, let the center ref know. He would then typically go review it, see the error, and issue the red. The standard for this is all high enough that it should be very rare that a ref is called to review a play for an unissued red and still fail to issue one.

That said, there are enough arguments here and elsewhere by people who know the rules about what should be a red that I wouldn’t be surprised to see it occasionally. My "clear and obvious" is not as universal as I would like to think.

a fair point

I bet we hardly ever see

a case where a yellow is issued but the VAR talks the center into reviewing it and the call changing.

But we might very well see cases where someone elbows another guy in the head or something, and none of the four on the field see it live- but the VAR sees it on video and lets the center know for a review on the next stoppage. Hopefully it’ll cut down on the crappy little gamesmanship stuff that guys try to pull.

Red card offenses stop play immediately per LOG

Only exception, I think is when the other team may imminently score in the next few seconds. VAR should get in the CRs ear immediately and the CR will blow the play dead and consult with VAR. Same thing that happens when the 4th official spots an off-the-ball red card behind the play that the CR misses.

It falls under the direct red card section

A two-footed tackle from behind is definitely the kind of play that can get a player sent off. Harsh yellows refers to a player going in for a tackle that maybe is a foul, but after looking at tape, doesn’t warrant a yellow.

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