The game is changing. As we've seen with the implementation of video review in sports such as football, basketball, baseball and more, soccer got into the game later than most, but video assistant refereeing is growing each day. It was first used on a global scale at the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup, Major League Soccer now uses it, it was at the 2017 Confederations Cup and the Bundesliga and Serie also now use it. The plan is for the 2018 FIFA World Cup to have it, and soon more major soccer leagues.
Former Premier League and World Cup referee Howard Webb, now manager of video operations for the professional referee organization, joined CBS Sports' Soccer Weekend Recap to discuss VAR, the ins and outs and more (you can view the entire interview in the video joining this article, but here's some of what he said).
On how things have gone in MLS:
Webb: "We've been involved now for four weeks with MLS, a total of 49 games. So, we're getting into it. Overall, we've been happy with how the implementation has gone. This is a challenging project, but overall, we've seen some really good examples of how video review can really assist the game."
Our take: There isn't really a middle ground. You are for it or against it. And at the weekend, we saw a video review take place in the Los Angeles Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes game. A penalty was awarded after the Galaxy's Joao Pedro was fouled, but VAR determined that the foul was committed outside of the box, and it was changed into a free kick, correctly so. This is an example of why it works, though many enjoy the "human error" element:
How exactly is it used?
Webb: "The video assistant referee is checking the footage throughout the game, throughout the 90-plus minutes. And they are specifically checking and analyzing any of the four situations which the video assistant referee protocol allows them to check, and that is goals, penalty kicks, direct red cards and cases of mistaken identity.
"Every penalty kick that is awarded gets checked. The video assistant referee can use all of the available broadcast angles to see whether or not the decision made on the field was a clear error.
"The video assistant will only get involved if they see a clear error."
Our take: And that's how it should be. Just alerted when a potential error is viewed will help from breaking the flow of the game. It's not like coaches are throwing out red flags in the NFL to challenge. It's basically a quick way to take an extra step to ensure the correctness of a call.
What are refs thinking? Are any blowing the whistle less and relying on VAR?
Webb: "We said to the referees, look you have to make the decision on the field. This is not decisions by committee. This cannot be a timeout to allow a decision to be made.
"We are wanting the referees to be the first one to make the call, and then the video referee will just check for those clear errors that most people seem to want to be cleaned up."
Our take: The key, aside from being right, is obviously for it not to be a distraction or a delay, and the training of officials and the drilling into their heads that they have to make the calls is another step in continuing the fluidity of the game. Every review will obviously impact the flow, but Webb and his group are doing what they can to make sure the flow is impacted minimally and the calls are as spot on as they can be.