Major League Soccer institutes Video Review this weekend

Instant replay is one of sport's great philosophical quandaries. The prospect of approaching perfect accuracy in officiating is appealing, but the potential intrusion into the flow of play is terrifying. Is the chance to correct game-changing errors worth the risk of frequent disruptions and delays?

Major League Soccer is about to find out. The league will institute Video Review starting this weekend, including Crew SC's match on Saturday, Aug. 5 at San Jose.

The review program has been in the works for three years. Earlier this year the Professional Referee Organization, which oversees soccer officiating in the United States and Canada, hired veteran referee Howard Webb to oversee its implementation in MLS, at a time when FIFA is considering adopting similar measures for next year's World Cup.

The MLS program involves the introduction of a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) tasked with monitoring four kinds of pivotal events: goals, penalty kicks, direct red cards, and mistaken identity.

In an explanatory video, Webb — who refereed the 2010 World Cup final in addition to 25 years of work in the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League — described Video Review as “an additional tool to make sure that clear mistakes are avoided and serious incidents aren't missed.” He said he expected 10 to 12 instances of review per match, adding, “It's not meant to change the way the game is played. The goal is maximum benefit from minimum interference.”

That's nice in theory, but as Ben Shpigel recently wrote in The New York Times, “In practice, the VAR system caused daily bouts of confusion at its most recent high-profile trial, the Confederations Cup in Russia. ... Lengthy stops and arbitrary use frustrated participants, coaches and fans, and threatened to erode the public's confidence in the initiative.”

Nonetheless, Crew SC Coach Gregg Berhalter came out firmly in favor of Video Review last week. “I can't wait until August 5 when VAR gets put in play,” he told reporters after a 3-0 loss at Philadelphia. “I think the level of incompetency has risen among the referees … and this is going to help. It's going to help clean up the game.”

Of course, this was in the aftermath of a loss in which two Columbus players were red-carded, so Berhalter was feeling heated. Whether he'll still feel that way upon encountering “lengthy” and “arbitrary” replay interruptions remains to be seen.