In a sign that soccer might not only be gaining a stronger foothold in the United States but also advancing the game beyond traditional rules, the first use of an in-game Video Assistant Referee (VAR) took place earlier this month in the New York Red Bulls II’s 5-1 win over Orlando City B. Instant reply was employed twice during that game.
According to Sky Sports, the dominant subscription television sports brand in the United Kingdom and Ireland:
Referees have permission to use VARs in four cases: to determine if a goal has been scored, red cards, penalties and mistaken identity.
Match referee Ismail Elfath opted to use the VAR just 35 minutes into the game when Orlando defender Conor Donovan fouled Red Bulls II forward Junior Flemmings on the edge of the penalty area.
The incident took 24 seconds to review from the time Elfath gave the official video monitor hand signal to then making his decision to send off Donovan.
The video replays were not used again until the 80th minute, when Orlando defender Kyle McFadden committed a dangerous challenge against Red Bulls II's Florian Valot, with Elfath ultimately awarding a yellow card after a review which took less than a minute.
Implementing video instant replay has been a long time coming — especially after FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter said this in 2008: “Let it be as it is and let’s leave [soccer] with errors. The television companies will have the right to say [the referee] was right or wrong, but still the referee makes the decision – a man, not a machine.”
But Blatter’s successor, Gianni Infantino, advanced the idea of instant replay in March by approving use of the technology no later than the international 2017-18 season.
“We have taken really a historic decision for football,” Infantino said at the time. “FIFA and [the International Football Association Board] are now leading the debate and not stopping the debate. We have shown we are listening to the fans, the players and to football.”
Reaction by Red Bulls head coach John Wolyniec to the historic first use of instant reply was positive: “Overall, I think it went pretty well and it didn’t affect the game,” he told SkySports.com.
As Sports Destination Management noted in January, several soccer associations have expressed an interest in staging VAR trials.