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What you need to know: Video Assistant Referee

VAR begins this weekend. Here is what you can expect to see while watching a match.

MLS: New England Revolution at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

You have heard about it for weeks but now it’s finally here. Video Assistant Referee (VAR) debuts in Major League Soccer this weekend.

The move has prompted many questions from supporters and skeptics, but Massive Report is here to help you have a better understanding of this new protocol.

Aug. 5th will be the first match day in MLS for the new VAR system, but this isn’t something new to the league.

VAR was tested on 130 occurrences across North America and live-tested 25 times in USL matches. Columbus Crew SC were involved in offline VAR testing during their home matches against the Montreal Impact on May 24th and against against Atlanta United on July 1st.

VAR is meant to be used as a tool to assist referees and make sure clear mistakes are avoided and serious incidents are not missed. Howard Webb of PRO Referees emphasized that the implementation of VAR is for “maximum benefit and minimum interference.”

The Video Assistant Referee will serve as the fifth member of the officiating crew and will be located in a booth located in the stadium. The VAR will have access to all available broadcast angles and check plays for clear and obvious errors or serious missed incidents.

What can be reviewed?

VAR will be available for review in four match changing situations:

  • Goals
  • Penalty kicks
  • Direct red cards
  • Cases of mistaken identity

The head referee is encouraged to officiate the match as normal. If a serious infraction occurs, the VAR can make a recommendation that a play can be reviewed. If the head referee accepts the VAR’s recommendation for review, he or she will make a television box motion to indicate the start of the review.

Once the review is completed, the head referee will repeat the box motion and reveal his verdict. The final decision will always belong to the head referee.

Information will be relayed to the public address announcer and broadcaster so the fans in attendance may know the decision. In addiction, fans will be shown the angles the referee utilized to arrive at his decision.

Similar to other professional leagues that have video review, if a stoppage of play occurs and play begins quickly, the window for review is closed. However, the head referee may halt the restart as the VAR reviews the video to check for a clear and obvious error.

During their testing period, PRO revealed that on average they experienced between 10-12 checks of VAR per-match.

How does the process work?

As previously mentioned, the VAR will have access to broadcast feeds only. For a call to be successfully overturned, there must be clear evidence to support it was incorrect. If the video doesn’t provide clear evidence and allow a different decision to be rendered, the call on the field will stand and the match will move on.

PRO Referees surveyed 90 matches. Averaging 8.9 checks of clear and obvious errors and 0.36 reviews per 90 minutes.

Typically, the average time from a whistle to restart is 1:25, but with VAR the restart time was bumped up to 2:41. The referees will be emphasizing accuracy but want to maintain minimum interference.


All goals scored will be reviewed by the Video Assistant Referee. The VAR will look at the goal-scoring action and/or the attacking phase of play leading up to the goal. He or she will try to answer whether the awarding of a goal or not was a clear and obvious error.

Some examples referenced in getting a goal overturned are handballs or infractions committed by the team with possession that created a goal scoring opportunity. These would be deemed as clear and obvious errors, and the goals would not be allowed to stand.

VAR can review offside and disallow a goal if the call is missed on the field, but this will be at the discretion of the head referee.

Penalty Kicks

The VAR process is cut and dry in regards to penalties. The VAR will look for a clear and obvious error in which a penalty kick was awarded or not awarded.

Howard Webb outlines everything that the VAR will look for in penalty kick scenarios.

Red Cards

PRO has made it clear that only straight red cards are reviewable. The VAR can recommend a review in situations where a straight red might be warranted.

The VAR will only look at the attacking phase of the play and review if there was a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

Unlike prior sections, restarts don’t negate potential red cards in cases of violent conduct.

Mistaken Identity

Cases of mistaken identity will be reviewable with the introduction of VAR.

Columbus Crew SC fans will remember an instance last season when Tyson Wahl earned a straight red, but PRO referee Ted Unkel sent off Michael Parkhurst mistakenly. Under the new VAR protocol, Unkel would pause play to check with the VAR and then would make the correct call to send off Wahl.

Final Thoughts

The introduction of Video Assistant Referee will be met with praise and skepticism, but PRO have taken the time and training with the new technology.

Howard Webb estimates that officials have trained over 100 hours with this new procedure and feels confident in its implementation as he stresses a “maximum benefit with minimum interference.”

Like most professional sports leagues that have instant replay, it’s going to take some getting used to, but in the long run, VAR is meant to make the game better.