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Major League Soccer reveals new VAR protocol

Right before the Homegrown game kicked off, media was given a sneak peak at the new VAR system.

Laureus KickOffForGood Charity Match Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images for Laureus

On the eve of their Homegrown Game against Chivas’ Under-20 team, Major League Soccer unveiled its new Video Assistant Refereeing protocol.

Assembled reporters were able to get a first hand look at the new technology as well as listen to a presentation by Pro Referee Organization’s Howard Webb.

In the first part of the presentation, Managing Director of Hawkeye North America James Japhet walked the media through the new VAR system’s technology.

The system features a four-person crew. In the video review booth, which will be locked and video recorded to guard against tampering, there is an Video Assistant Referee, an Assistant Video Assistant Referee, and an operator. On the field, there’s a fourth video review assistant, who will help the head referee with the technology.

The three-person crew in the booth has access to every single production camera at the stadium to analyze the play via four different touch screens.

“Eight will be the minimum [number of camera angles]... the number of games we’ve it’s been well more than eight”, Japhet told the media during the first part of the presentation.

The VAR, who will be in constant contact with the head referee on the field, has the power to hit “a large red button” to timestamp a play that they would like to look over. However, in the time that play is stopped and restarted, the play must be “checked” in the time. If play is restarted before the “check” of the call is concluded, the review sequence is closed for that call.

To those worried about rate of play and technology taking over the game, Howard Webb cleared up those concerns. VAR will only be used in four special cases: Goals, Red Cards, Penalty Kicks and Mistaken Identity. In regard to these four scenarios, VAR will solely be used to answer the question, “Was the decision clearly wrong?” as opposed to “Was the decision correct?”.

(Our friends at Sounder at Heart put together a very comprehensive explanation of Webb’s webcast about VAR here)

Webb also touched on the rate of play issue that many see as a serious concern.

On average, there were about nine checks done by the VAR booth per game to determine if the call was clearly wrong. Almost all of the checks done were considered silent checks that were done during the play of game and had no effect on the pace of the match. On average, there was only one video review per every three matches. Webb further elaborated that the whole process for a player being sent off for a red card (check+ video review+sending off) adds, on median, 75 seconds to the process, which will be added on at the end of the match.

“There is a script that will be used so that we keep consistent from game-to-game. So we aren’t having differences in communicating for each of the different AVARs that are communicating as well as from stadium to stadium.” A MLS official told the media about how Slack will be used to disseminate the information to the public relations officials in addition to the broadcasting media. From there, the information is disseminated through the proper channels to the fans.

The new VAR system will be implemented in MLS matches beginning this Saturday, August 5th.