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LARSON

Larson: MLS video review should stop the whining

By Kurt Larson, Toronto Sun

In this July 11, 2017, still image from video, MLS referee Silviu Petrescu tests an earpiece and mic used to communicate with a video assistant referee during a video replay scrimmage organized in a community park, in Park City, Utah. Games were staged as part of the final training camp to gauge MLS referees' competence in and comfort with video replay. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

In this July 11, 2017, still image from video, MLS referee Silviu Petrescu tests an earpiece and mic used to communicate with a video assistant referee during a video replay scrimmage organized in a community park, in Park City, Utah. Games were staged as part of the final training camp to gauge MLS referees' competence in and comfort with video replay. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

TORONTO — “They’re all bad,” an MLS player told me this year.

The league’s referees would probably admit bad calls have hurt every single club over the years.

Just ask players and coaches.

Then ask them to describe their anger levels whenever a critical call doesn’t go their way.

Do they shrug their shoulders and laugh it off while chatting with reporters?

Do they calmly explain how imperfect refereeing is what makes the game great?

Of course not.

They’re almost always outraged — inconsolable, even — given what’s on the line most nights.

I’ve been to too many locker rooms and post-game news conferences where refereeing isn’t just the topic of conversation. It’s the entire story.

As a result, you’d think video review, which will be implemented across MLS beginning this weekend, would be unanimously adored given the number of complaints heard around MLS on a weekly basis.

But it’s not.

Prominent players have voiced disdain ahead of this weekend’s launch and fans are heavily split on the implementation of video review.

“I don’t like it,” Michael Bradley told the Toronto Sun last week. “I’m a traditionalist when it comes to this stuff. I think the human error, when it comes to refereeing, is part of it.”

Some like the idea. Some don’t. In a few years, we won’t remember what it was like without it.

Kind of like the disappearing white spray referees use today.

Still, that hasn’t stopped opponents’ cautious optimism.

They argue the sanctity of soccer hinges on two things: Human (refereeing) error and the free-flowing qualities that separate it from every sport in the world.

This, however, is a misunderstanding of what video review will offer.

The process seeks consensus, not perfection.

We’re still going to debate penalties and red cards and offside decisions that aren’t labelled “clear and obvious” mistakes. Thus, “human error” remains.

The second concern isn’t really valid. Correcting egregious refereeing decisions trumps the risk of potentially tacking on a few extra minutes whenever a play is reviewed.

Furthermore, you can’t both loathe MLS officiating and refuse mechanisms to improve it.

In other words, arguments against video review are arguments in favour of inaccuracy.

Again, how many times have you heard a player or coach stand up for human fallibility post-game?

It doesn’t happen. What we have heard, though, is players and staff ranting about accountability and consistency — two things video review seeks to promote.

There’s no good reason why an official should have less information than TV viewers when making big, game-changing calls.

As one west coast coach told me last week, as in other professional sports, soccer “has to move with the technology that exists.”

A coach from the opposite conference then explained how he believed more than half the games he watched last week would have been altered by video review.

Both managers told the Sun they’re in favour of it.

That’s not to say the process won’t need refining over the next few seasons. The looming initiative should consider fans’ needs above all else.

I’d eventually like to see multiple video review angles provided to referees played back on in-stadium Jumbotrons around the league. Allow fans to see what officials are viewing before a conclusion is reached. In-stadium PA announcers also need to accurately convey any decision that’s made.

Then have the referees answer questions post-game. How did they interpret a play given their access to video review?

The current process — pool reporters can send three written questions to refs post-game — doesn’t yield positive results.

Perhaps this would humanize “bad” officials who, without video review, are expected to complete one of the hardest jobs in sports to perfection.

Video review won’t hurt the sanctity of the game. It’s going to preserve it.

THE PROCESS

1) Located in a booth at every MLS stadium, a video assistant referee (VAR) will use all available TV angles to alert the referee if he or she believes a “clear and obvious” mistake has been made.

2) If the referee chooses to accept the VAR’s advice, they will signal a video review is under way by blowing their whistle and using both hands to draw a box in the air.

3)The referee can watch the footage from a sideline monitor or take the recommendation of the VAR to uphold or overturn a bad decision.

WHAT CAN BE REVIEWED?

Goals: Can be waved off if an infraction — offside, a foul, a handball etc. — occurs during the “attacking phase” of play before the goal.

Penalty kicks: Was it a hand ball? Was it a foul? Did the infraction occur inside the penalty area?

Direct red cards: Did the foul actually constitute serious foul play or violent conduct?

Mistaken identity: Did the referee misidentify a player when issuing a caution or ejection?

klarson@postmedia.com