Sandy • The feed from the broadcast cameras in Rio Tinto Stadium no longer only streams to the TV trucks.
A new set of wires slither into the high-ceilinged cement room next door and attach to a set of four monitors. Come Saturday, the Video Assistant Referee will sit in front of those screens, and MLS will go live with the International Football Association Board’s experiment.
“Overall, we think there will be a net benefit,” PRO manager of video review operations and renowned former referee Howard Webb said in a PRO training camp last month in Park City. “We think when we look back in December we’ll be able to say, ‘Look, we were able to correct at the time rather than through the disciplinary committee three days later.’”
After about 130 test-runs in North America, the VAR system launches league-wide Saturday. It is part of an international effort to implement video review in professional soccer.
In the system’s first iteration, the VAR setups across the league will use just broadcast feeds to provide various angles for video review.
WHAT IS VAR?
VAR stands for Video Assistant Referee. It is a new position added to the team of four officials already in place in each MLS match. The VAR is tasked with monitoring the match through broadcast feeds to identify possible clear and obvious errors made by the referee. The VAR can recommend a review to the head official if he or she identifies an erroneous decision in one of the following situations: goals, penalty kicks, direct red cards and mistaken identity. The VAR system will go live league-wide Saturday.
“We’re thinking anywhere between eight and 12 [camera angles] on MLS games,” Webb said. “That seems like a pretty manageable number, which will give us some good angles. And in my experience, the angle behind the goal often opens up the answer, the one that’s high behind the goal looking down. That gives you a nice view of penalty situations.”
VAR systems will vary by stadium at this stage. Not every venue will have that camera angle behind the goal.
“What we hope to move toward is some minimum standards where every stadium has at least what we’ve got here in Park City,” he said. “Eight cameras — two behind the goals, two offsides, two reverse offsides and two on the halfway line.”
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT VAR
• Box drawn with both hands means review has begun/review has ended
• One hand on ear, the other extended in front means holding play to check
• Penalty kicks
• Direct red cards
• Mistaken identity
The home broadcast at Rio Tinto uses a nine-camera operation, and the away broadcast usually adds two or three more cameras.
RSL set up its video operations room in a pre-existing space on the south side of the stadium. That helped the team limit the cost of implementation.
The club spent a little more than $30,000 on the VAR setup, which was on the low end of the spectrum in MLS, according to RSL communications staff.
The implementation of video reviews comes two weeks after RSL coach Mike Petke’s impassioned post-game criticism of refereeing and the review process.
HOUSTON DYNAMO at REAL SALT LAKE
Kickoff • 8 p.m. Saturday
TV • KMYU
Radio • 700 AM
Records • RSL 7-12-4, HOU 9-7-6
Last meeting • Houston won 5-1 (May 31 at BBVA Compass Stadium)
About the Dynamo • Houston has won its past three matches against RSL. … The Dynamo have claimed victory in Rio Tinto Stadium just once. … Andrew Weneger, Memo Rodriguez and Mauro Manotas each netted two goals in Houston’s past four matches. … Dynamo midfielder Eric Alexander (knee) is doubtful for the match. … Houston defender George Malki is out for the season (torn ACL).
About RSL • RSL is on a four-match unbeaten streak in two away and two home games. … Real Salt Lake has outscored its opponents 13-6 in its past four matches. … RSL's Jordan Allen, Omar Holness and Chad Barrett remain out (knee surgeries). ... Matt Van Oekel (ankle) and Demar Phillips (hamstring) will be sidelined with injuries. … The VAR system is scheduled to make its Rio Tinto Stadium debut.
Among other things, Petke and his club were stunned by the independent panel’s decision to reject their appeal to review a red card issued to Kyle Beckerman at Portland on July 19.
“We’ve been on the bad side of some calls for sure,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. “We just want the referees and that badge to hold these referees accountable, and if this would help out in any way, then we’re for it.”
A red card decision would be reviewable by the VAR, but the new official will not review everything.
The 49 trained VARs will strive for “minimum interference, maximum benefit,” Webb said in a video seminar designed to educate the media and fans about the video review process.
They only will recommend a review if a potential “clear and obvious error” or “serious missed incident” occurs in any of the four situations identified as match-changing — goals, penalty kicks, direct red cards and mistaken identity.
“I think it’s going to help the game,” RSL forward Brooks Lennon said. “I had it during the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, and we had a couple calls that VAR was used for, and I think it’s going to be helpful.”