MLS and the Professional Referee Organization will run the first offline test of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) initiative in a regular-season match when the Colorado Rapids host the Vancouver Whitecaps on Friday night.
Though the technology involved will likely be visible to most fans (a monitor, sometimes tented, on field level), this step of the VAR initiative – which eventually will be implemented in all MLS stadiums after the 2017 MLS All-Star Game – won't impact any calls made on the field or involve any communication with the four on-site match officials.
Instead, a VAR equipped with every available broadcast camera angle to review certain officiating decisions will communicate with a referee surrogate at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. This will replicate the communication a VAR would have with a head referee during matches once the initiative has been implemented league-wide.
“Part of the training [for VARs and assistant VARs] will be using the game tonight to as closely as possible replicate the conditions of a real match,” said MLS Vice President of Competition Jeff Agoos.
The VAR initiative, as outlined by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), consists of an additional referee positioned in a booth with finger-touch video and a communications system. The VAR will advise the head referee of clear errors in four types of “game-changing” situations: goals, penalty calls, direct red-card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.
Each stadium will undergo two offline tests during MLS matches similar to the one happening in Denver on Friday before the initiative goes live. The system was also tested in select 2017 preseason matches.
“We are certifying each stadium to essentially say now we’ve got the stadium infrastructure up to what the requirements are,” Agoos said. “We’ll now pressure test that to make sure they function the way we think they’re going to function, rather than sit on our hands on August 5 and pray that they will happen.”
Agoos said there was no predetermined reason for Dick’s Sporting Goods Park to go first.
“They were just the first stadium that was ready to go when we started to have our discussions last December,” he said. “I would say a good number of stadiums will be ready in May [for their first test] and then the rest will be ready in June.”
All officials who serve as VARs and assistant VARs will be part of the Professional Referee Organization.
“We were going to have to identify additional referees who could serve as VARs and AVARs, which meant that we would have to bring in new officials, as well as educate the existing referee pool,” Agoos said. “That is ongoing as well."