Why MLS Is The Best League To Test Video Replay

Testing already is being done, and reviews could be coming soon
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, September 18, 2015

US Soccer Federation (USSF)

They are the two words that soccer “purists” cringe at when they are said.

Video. Replay.

It’s the spectrum that goes beyond simple goal-line technology, and goes into the core of the most controversial decisions made in the game. And it just might be coming to Major League Soccer.

A story by Caitlin Murray posted on The Guardian website on Wednesday suggested that not only is MLS considering the possibility of replay reviews during games, but that the concept has been tested in BC Place (Vancouver), PPL Park (Philadelphia) and Rio Tinto Stadium (Real Salt Lake) to see how a replay system would operate. A review system has also been tested in the Eredivisie in the Netherlands over the past two seasons, as well.

It isn’t a surprise that MLS is looking at replay technology. Don Garber said in July at the MLS All-Star Game that the league would support putting in replay, and that they needed to get US Soccer and FIFA to sign off on it before it could happen. But MLS would be the ideal place to test the concept, as the other major sports leagues in North America already have replay as part of their officiating.

What would be looked at? According to Murray, red cards would be looked at, along with penalties and decisions on whether a goal was scored or not. While goal-line technology would likely handle the goal decisions, the others might be a bit trickier.

If replay is approved for MLS, then how it becomes a factor during matches becomes a big question. The ideal set-up likely wouldn’t be to have an on-site replay official, but to have a centralized “command center” where a play in question can be looked at quickly. The example MLS could look at is the NHL, which has handled replay requests from its Toronto complex for years. Numerous angles of a play are available simultaneously, allowing for decisions to be made using the right view (assuming the TV cameras are in the right location, which they often are for all matches).

Could a coach challenge and force a review, like in the NFL, CFL and college football? For an MLS replay system to work, that may not be the best. A review would have to be initiated by either the referee or by the command center itself to ensure that the system would have minimal impact on the game. But a coach may be able to suggest a review to the fourth official, who could then contact the referee and they could make a quick decision. If a referee says no, and the command center hasn’t sent word that they were looking at a play, then there’s nothing a coach could do and play goes on.

There will be complaints that a review would interrupt the “flow of the game”, with moments of players standing around waiting for a decision to be made. However, that already happens often in matches, whether it is players surrounding a referee after a call, an injured player getting worked on or an official trying to get players set up in the right spot for a free kick or a corner kick. Those also disrupt the flow of a game, so a review may just become another one of those types of stoppages.

Reviewing red cards and penalties, often judgement calls, would be controversial. Few leagues ever use replay for those, because judgement calls are supposed to be final, no matter if the call is good, bad or suspicious. But there already is a precedent for replays being used on those calls, as the Canadian Football League allows replay reviews on pass interference. Coaches in the CFL can challenge a referee’s decision on whether pass interference happened on a play, and the CFL replay officials in Toronto can overturn the penalty (or even call one if a non-call was being challenged). Major League Baseball also uses replay to judge whether a baserunner was safe or out on a play, usually a judgement call by the umpire based on whether he can see a tag made or a ball being caught.

One major question is the attitudes of MLS referees on reviews of their decisions. MLB had an issue with umpires allegedly ignoring replay rulings on plays to show their displeasure over the system when replay was expanded in 2013, but that seems to have subsided. Most officials in sports where replay is now a major part of the game have adjusted and now treat reviews as another way to make sure the right calls are made.

But maybe that’s not a big issue. Peter Walton, the general manager of the Professional Referees Organization (PRO), has come out in the past in favor of video replay and has seen the tests that were done by the Dutch. If the officials that are part of PRO also are in favor of replay in some form, then that clears a big hurdle.

In the end, if FIFA approval is given, then MLS will have replay sooner rather than later. While a number of vocal fans (and those who just hate MLS because it’s MLS) likely will hate it, video reviews will be a part of the game at some point. The issues of who makes the call, where the reviews are done, what gets reviewed and how quickly decisions can be made will all have to be worked out. While no system is perfect (ask any fan of the NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB, rugby or volleyball about that), it will get soccer closer to getting the right calls made. It might also reduce the number of bad calls that can decide a match and force a referee to apologize for making a wrong call.

If the number of those bad calls is reduced, and they are turned into a correct decision, then that is what matters. Then replay is more than worth the time.


Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.