The video replay was officially introduced in competitive play as the United Soccer League, via two MLS reserve teams, became the first North American league to utilize FIFA's video assistant referee (VAR) initiative during the course of a league match. Once in each half, head referee Ismail Elfath made use of the video screen behind the goal, which was manned by review assistants. In both instances, Elfath needed just a few moments to communicate with the VAR, located in a mobile truck on Red Bull Arena property. And both times, Elfath and the VAR – on this night it was PRO referee Allen Chapman who oversaw the technology – worked together to make a clear, precise call. The VAR automatically reviews every goal, every red card and all penalties, and communicates directly with the head referee, who ultimately decides whether to resort to the monitor.
The first use of the VAR on Friday came in the 36th minute: Orlando’s Conor Donovan fouled Junior Flemings right near the 18-yard line, just as the young New York forward was heading in on goal. Within moments of the foul being whistled by Elfath, Chapman communicated with the referee. “The VAR first had to identify if it was a penalty kick or a free kick outside the box, looking at both some pulling and a trip," David Elleray, the Technical Director of the International Football Association Board (IFAB), told MLSsoccer.com after the match. "Initially, Elfath correctly called the foul outside the box, which was upheld by the replay.” Elfath needed just one camera angle and a handful of seconds to review the replay himself, as well as some simple communication with Chapman, to make the call. He decided on a foul outside the box and a straight red card to Donovan for denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
In the other instance in the 82nd minute, Elfath also employed video review to determine that Orlando City B defender Kyle McFadden’s challenge on a 50-50 ball was not worthy of a red card. In this instance, Chapman communicated to Elfath that he should review the play, so Elfath jogged behind the goal and this time reviewed the play a couple times before determining that a yellow card and not a red card was warranted. Chapman, with the same multiple views available to Elfath, did not give any personal input on the play just “that it deserved and needed to be reviewed. He made the call that it was a yellow card after reviewing the play,” Chapman said. The time utilized to make the review was added on as part of the four minutes of stoppage time at the end of the match.
While the focus from this match was clearly the two calls made after Elfath used video review, the technology also came in handy in a moment when there was no need for the referee himself to refer to a replay. In stoppage time, Red Bulls II forward Zoumana Simpara scored on a rebound off the post. As per the standard, Chapman immediately reviewed the goal. Elfath had communicated to him that Simpara, a member of Mali’s U-17 national team, might have been offside. Within moments, Chapman made the review and communicated to Elfath that Simpara was not offside. The final call on video reviews always belong to the head referee, who ruled that the goal stood, capping off the first night for the VAR and this emerging technology. “I’d give it a very high grade,” Elleray said.