If I were to give the referees a rating for Real Salt Lake’s trip to Minnesota United FC last Sunday, I think I’d give it a solid 10/24. It’s better than 2/10, but I still don’t think I can bring myself to recommend it.
First, a disclaimer:
I am not a PRO referee nor a professional referee. I primarily referee adult recreational and youth leagues and write software as my primary function in society. On average, I am involved in around 150 games a season, most of them U-16 and older. I have yet to be the center official in a professional level match. It is my goal here to look at the cards/incidents, and how I feel the Laws of the Game apply to them and how I interpret those laws based on information I receive in my annual re-certifications through USSF.
If you’re interested in becoming a referee, please check this link for information on how to locate your state officiating group.
Lights. Camera? Action!
For those of you with long memories, you remember that RSL’s last trip to Minnesota also had some dodgy goal-keeping that invoked some even dodgier VAR work. It became pretty apparent after that point that Minnesota, for whatever reason, has only installed a certain number of cameras for VAR. That number is smaller when it’s not a “nationally broadcast” game. Per an interaction I had with Greg Barkey from PRO via YouTube, that number ranges between 10-24 cameras.
The bias fan in me says that when RSL lands in Minnesota, at least two of those 10 cameras just magically unplug themselves. That’s the only way I can think to justify the fact that there never seems to be a camera angle available to the VAR.
Ball might be over line and in the goal? Sorry, the only camera is pointed at the top of the 18-yard box.
Emanuel Reynoso might have shoved Albert Rusnak in the face? Sorry, the only camera angle is on the roof at the center line and only has a 720p resolution.
Romain Métanire goes studs up into Pablo Ruiz’s leg? Sorry, the still using the camera on the roof, can’t see it from any other angle.
Ultimately, I think it’s a fool’s errand to kvetch too much about referee decisions influencing games. If you put yourself in a better position, you’ll have better outcomes. Real Salt Lake has a history of falling apart if a call or two doesn’t go their way. It can also be argued that the team spent a lot of time on the back foot in their own defensive third.
It’s hard to put too much on the referee when, statistically speaking, a draw was a fortunate result.
However, I can’t help but wonder how effective a VAR can be if their absolutely limited by the camera angles. There are changes and adjustments being made at the higher levels of officiating that are somewhat driven by the idea that VAR is available.
The assistant referees hold a tight offside to make sure they’re not chalking off a good goal. The center referee is able to take more aggressive positions without trying to keep an eye on 22 players. The fourth official spends more time chatting garbage to coaches then watching the transitional area in the middle of the field.
All of these changes exist because of the idea of VAR. You can’t hold that offside flag, be in that aggressive position, or tell a head coach to “sit down and relax” if you don’t have the illusion of VAR hovering over your shoulder. If the VAR is going to be rendered virtually ineffective because of camera constraints, you might as well just turn it off.
That said, I am still a huge proponent of VAR, I just think the implementation details need to be ironed out. If you can’t standardize the access to a certain degree, there’s no way you can expect any consistency across the league.