Wholly speaking, we as MLS fans understand and know the reason of why VAR was implemented into the league in 2017. In short, VAR’s main objective is to sacrifice valuable game time (and real time) in order to correctly review a penalty kick, straight red card, goalkeeper obstruction, handballs, and other match changing events that may occur. Now soccer is the beautiful game because it’s a game of inches, but also because it is a game of human error; referee’s and players alike. With that said, it is utterly impossible to please every fan of the two sides in a match; in attendance or behind the TV.
There’s a significant push and pull relationship with VAR and it has been an increasingly hot topic throughout 2019. While some fans and analysts argue “we have VAR, so why not use it thoroughly?” others may respond with “let the game play out in its natural state and save the review for controversial matters only.” No matter which side of the fence you stand on, there’s little debate that VAR is here to stay for the future of the league.
Wednesday night’s match between the surging, but still lowly, Colorado Rapids hosting the struggling LA Galaxy really capsized essentially the faults with VAR that we’ve been hearing so much about recently. Below I will break down the key moments when VAR was a key and disappointing player in the match.
83′ – The Colorado Rapids and LA Galaxy are deadlocked at 1-1 in a match with very little scoring chances from either side. Rapids striker Andre Shinyashiki receives a pass from Kellyn Acosta near the top of the 18 yard box and makes an impressive driving run between two Galaxy defenders. Once he reaches the six yard box, Shinyashiki falls down between both Galaxy players and the referee, Fotis Bazakos awards a penalty. To the naked eye, sure it looked like he probably got clipped, as the striker was swarmed by Galaxy players at that moment. After a closeup replay is shown by Altitude Sports, it actually appears that Shinyashiki wasn’t even touched. Rapids announcers remark “I’m looking to see where the penalty is, is it a grab? It looks like he’s gone down on his own there.” Remember that was the home teams commentators. Roughly, a minute and a half go by and the referee doesn’t even take a glance at the VAR monitor. This was a ridiculous decision for Bazakos to not even take a look at the monitor. As Galaxy players and fans back home are in utter shock that a player can go down with no contact whatsoever and be awarded a penalty without using the tool that is supposed to correct this circumstance. Moments later Nicolas Mezquida smashes in the penalty kick to give the Rapids a deciding 2-1 lead.
92′ – Rapids attackers Sam Nicholson and Andre Shinyashiki head to the Galaxy’s corner flag in an attempt to waste the four minutes of added time. In a fury of swipes from Galaxy players, LA’s Christian Pavon is shown a straight red for taking the legs out from under Shinyashiki. Now from the time of the foul to the showing of the red card it takes Bazakos about 45 seconds to show the red. Which in that sense already shows ambiguity since shouldn’t a straight red card be a relatively quick decision? It isn’t until the 96th minute, some four minutes later that the red card is rescinded and Pavon is showed a yellow. Rapids commentators remark during the delay, “how is Pavon able to walk halfway up the field, before it goes to review?” Now the criticism of VAR isn’t that the system failed; the correct call was made. It’s that it took four minutes to come to this seemingly easy conclusion, causing confusion throughout the stadium and allowing Abubakar and Zlatan to enter a pushing match due to the absence of the referee.
98′ – With the Rapids up 2-1 in the added, added time from the numerous delays in extra time, Galaxy right back Rolf Feltscher attempts to head a redirected ball from Zlatan Ibrahimovic that goes just wide of post. In probably the best scoring chance of the match (aside from the penalty) Feltscher takes a full on kick in the face from Rapids defender Danny Wilson. Originally no penalty is called and two minutes rolls by before Bazakos trots towards the monitor. Again the Rapids commentator sums it up perfectly in a disgusted tone. “Why so long? I do not know.” The referee spends 45 seconds on the monitor and signals to play on, with no penalty awarded. This decision was absolutely shocking to me, and as a neutral fan frankly sad. Feltscher cleanly connects with the ball, while Danny Wilson attempts to knock it out of the air. Only Wilson completely misses and connects with Feltchers head. Imagine setting up a clean shot and a defender attempts to kick the ball away, but misses and connects with your plant foot sending your shot off the mark. Yeah, thats a penalty seven days a week with no questions asked.
The worst part about this situation and all of the others in recent weeks is that VAR could have been used to make the correct call. But it wasn’t. It seems like every referee in Major League Soccer has different opinions on what VAR is used for and how frequently. Thus, causing confusion for fans and players week in and week out. VAR is a good tool, I don’t want to slander the system, but the problem here lies that it seems to operate on a sliding scale from match to match. And hey, maybe that’s not the worst thing because we all enjoy soccer for its random moments of randomness. Although I do know that if fans and players feel cheated, or if VAR represents them in a different way than what they thought or compared to another team, there could and will be some real uprise within the league. In the final weeks of MLS everything is on the line, so of course VAR will be under a magnifying glass, but the excuses of “why can’t we get it right” are beginning to lack tremendously.