Major League Soccer selected to begin trials to test video replays in game

Major League Soccer will be among the first leagues in the world to participate in developing and testing FIFA's new Video Assistant Referee (VAR) initiative — the first step toward implementing video review for referees during official MLS competition.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB), which establishes and governs the Laws of the Game of soccer, unveiled the list of participating leagues on Thursday which includes MLS, Australia’s A-League, Germany’s Bundesliga and Brazil’s Campeonato Brasileiro. Select tournaments in Portugal and the Netherlands will also take part in the VAR project, which was first rubber-stamped by the IFAB back in March.

In a league statement, MLS said it “will work closely with the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) and the United Soccer League (USL) to implement the necessary tests,” starting this summer with trials in USL, a league which is home to 11 owned-and-operated MLS reserve teams and another nine MLS-affiliated clubs.

“Major League Soccer has been a strong proponent of using technology in soccer where it enhances the game, and we are pleased to be among the first leagues in the world to participate in the Video Assistant Referee project,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in the league statement. “We believe the time has come for a mechanism that helps referees avoid clearly incorrect decisions that change the game. We look forward to working with The IFAB and FIFA to test video assistance for our referees.”

According to the IFAB, the trials are expected to last two years with a subsequent decision potentially coming in 2018 or in 2019.

The Video Assistant Referee initiative, as outlined by the IFAB earlier this year, consists of an additional referee positioned in a booth with technology that allows access to video from every available camera angle at a finger's touch. A communications system will allow the VAR to alert and advise the head referee on “game-changing” decisions:

  • Goals
  • Penalty decisions
  • Direct red card incidents
  • Mistaken identity

"Offline" tests are essentially rehearsals where referees recreate the VAR operation without impacting a match or communicating with the referee. The "live" version of the tests see match officials in active communication and the head referee can make decisions based on information provided by the VAR.

In a statement, the IFAB indicated that although live tests are not expected before the beginning of 2017, they may choose – alongside FIFA – to identify "select friendly matches or competitions such as the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in December, in which offline and/or live tests are conducted in order to improve the technological set-up and to help train participants, particularly with regard to communication between referees and VARs."

In recent years, MLS league officials and owners have made public their desire to introduce video assistance for referees and the league first began offline tests of video review back in 2014, revealing on Thursday that its preliminary findings over the last two years is that "the review of a key match incident could be completed without a material disruption to the game."

For a basic snapshot of how the Video Assistant Referee set-up will work, FIFA published this three-step guide.