Video review coming to Major League Soccer: What does it mean?


Montreal Impact defender Kyle Fisher hangs on to Vancouver Whitecaps forward Fredy Montero. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Following Wednesday’s all-star game, where the league’s best will take on Real Madrid in Chicago, Major League Soccer will start using video review during all regular-season and playoff games.

Here’s what you need to know going forward…

What is the video assistant referee system?

A video assistant referee, or VAR, will be situated in a booth inside each stadium. The VAR will be watching the game in real time via a variety of TV camera angles, and will have access to replays. The VAR’s job is to continually check for mistakes made by the referee and things missed by the referee.

How does VAR work?

The referee on the pitch will continue to officiate the match as normal. But, if the VAR feels the referee has made a mistake or missed an incident, he will immediately alert the ref, who’ll be wearing an ear piece.

It is entirely up to the VAR to tell the match official that a potential mistake has been made. Unlike in the NFL where coaches can challenge plays, MLS coaches have no such luxury.

So, the VAR has the final word?

No. Once alerted by the VAR, the official on the field can either accept the recommendation, or watch the replay from a sideline monitor to decide for himself whether to overturn or uphold his original decision. Either way, the referee on the pitch has the final say, not the VAR.


What kinds of plays are reviewable?

The VAR can check a play and then let the referee know of a potentially clear and obvious error, or a missed incident as it pertains to four game-changing situations: 1) goals, 2) penalty kick decisions, 3) straight red card decisions and 4) mistaken player identity in issuing a red or yellow card. These are the only reviewable plays.

Aren’t all of these VAR reviews going to slow down the game?

According to Howard Webb, the Professional Referee Organization’s manager of VAR, not all goals will be checked by the VAR or reviewed by the ref. During a recent presentation to the media, Webb explained that in the VAR test matches run by the PRO, only 10-12 VAR checks were made per game, with less than 0.5 actual referee reviews per game. Webb said that the average delay time of a review was two minutes and 41 seconds.

Anything else?

There are two important points to keep in mind.

1) It’s not just the incident that is reviewed, the attacking phase of play leading up to it will also be checked for any offence. The attacking phase of play is deemed to have started when the team begins the attacking move that leads to the incident in question.

So, for instance, if the referee misses a handball by the attacking team in the buildup, and that same team goes on to score a goal in the same phase of play, VAR can call the play back and negate the goal.

2) If there’s a stoppage in play after a contentious incident and play restarts before the incident can be reviewed, the referee on the field can’t go back review it. What you are bound to see is the match official hold up play before allowing a restart to continue while the VAR checks it upstairs.

Are any other leagues using VAR?

The A-League in Australia started using the VAR system earlier this year. The system was also deployed during this summer’s Confederations Cup in Russia and in last December’s FIFA Club World Cup. Also, VAR was tested in a number of games in the United Soccer League last year.

The Bundesliga in Germany and Italy’s Serie A both plan to introduce VAR during the 2017–18 season. VAR will also be used at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Still confused about VAR?

This video produced by MLS and PRO should help clear things up for you:

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