We are a little over a year on from VAR in MLS and the great experiment has proved to be a divisive advancement in the game. To some, it’s like Nicholas Cage in Face/Off, and to others it’s Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider and I think that split is simply down to the way it’s been sold to the fans. The last two Real Salt Lake games, against LAFC and NYRB, has been a perfect example of the polar opposites when it comes to VAR.
During the trashing by LAFC, many fans were angered about Baldomero Toledos reluctance to use the video referee and that proved to be justified as two of the 5 goals scored came from an offside position. That kind of call, especially at 1-1 when the first goal from a suspect position was scored, is the kind of game-changing moment that VAR was supposed to equalise. Had that goal been wiped off the board, Real Salt Lake could have been given the shot in the arm they needed to be wary of the LAFC attack and maybe find confidence to go on and win.
In a total 180 from the week before, Ted Unkel reached for the holster immediately following a sloppy foul on David Horst by Red Bulls midfielder Carlos Rivas. The ruling on the field was deemed a penalty instead of a free kick and Rusnak calmly tucked it away for the only goal of the game. Given the struggles Real Salt Lake had to score in open play and the desire to win, going ahead from a set piece goal was vital to the team and spurred them on to hold firm and pick up the first win of the season.
VAR has been sold to the fans as the way to end all blown calls and level the playing field for teams, making games about pure skill and technical ability. When VAR is proven to be fallible or in the case of Toledo rejected outright, the fans see this as the VAR being at fault and evidence that it’s a hindrance to the game. But if a referee is like a builder, VAR is just another tool in the box and how you use those tools will dictate how good your house is. Toledo may have decided that he wanted to use a wrench to hammer the nails in but it made for a shaky house. Unkel went for a hammer and the extra time was justified as he got it right.
If VAR had been sold this way, an extra tool in the ref’s belt, fans might not have felt so passionately against VAR when calls are blown still. It’s not like we’ve reached some FIFA 18 level of consciousness where your
jerk brother unnamed relative fouls you on the edge of the box and the game knows exactly where to put the ball. We still have, at the end of all these systems, fallible humans who read a rule book and interpret the actions of a game in different ways.
Real Salt Lake should feel aggrieved by LAFC getting a goal from an offside position but pointing the finger at VAR after the NYRB game is like being mad at the fire that cooked your food for burning your fingers. A human decided to not use one of tools available to them as they felt they had the right answer.
VAR can’t remove mistakes from the game but it also isn’t the worst thing to happen to the game since the backpass rule. The ref is still accountable in all of this and if they don’t use the tools made available to them, then these blown calls are still on them. It’s no different from a red card or vanishing spray for free kicks and to treat it as anything more than this is only setting fans up for heartache.
I think VAR has been a good force in the game, but I want to hear what our readers make of VAR after back to back incidents relating to the little camera that could. Let us know what you think below!