Image: PRO’s Allen Chapman (center) in the VAR truck during New York Red Bulls II v Orlando City B.
It was the 36th minute of New York Red Bulls II versus Orlando City B in the United Soccer League and Conor Donovan fouled Junior Flemings right near the 18-yard line, with the New York forward bearing down on goal.
At this moment, history was made as PRO referee Ismail Elfath used the video screen behind the goal at Red Bull Arena to work with video assistant referee Allen Chapman to make a clear, precise call to award a free kick and show Donovan a red card for denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
“This was a huge milestone in world soccer and one that PRO is very humbled to be part of” – PRO General Manager Peter Walton.
“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, an experienced official who made his professional debut in 2009, also utilized the video review in the 82nd minute, to determine that that Orlando City B defender Kyle McFadden deserved only a yellow card after a 50-50 challenge.
In this instance, VAR Chapman, who was positioned in a mobile truck on Red Bull Arena property, communicated with the center official that he should review the play.
The view from the officials – Allen Chapman
“It was a great opportunity and honor to be selected to participate in all of the preparation, testing, and the first live use of VAR.
“The VAR concept is a beneficial tool to the game and provides an opportunity to get more precise accuracy in decisions; particularly game critical decisions. Initially I had reservations about the impact to the game but after significant testing I now believe it’s a valuable tool and concept.
“As the first live game using VAR, I thought it went very well and the partnership between the center referee and the VAR was better than expected. The test was successful based on feedback from the stakeholders including IFAB, PRO leadership, and MLS.
“While it was a different feeling than being on the field, the pressure of checking every decision and staying within protocol set by IFAB was equally challenging in addition to working with the replay operator and the need to communicate with the center referee. I felt like an integral part of the crew and even though I wasn’t on the field, the intensity and expectations were similar to being on the field.
“As this was the first live testing it wasn’t flawless, but over time I anticipate that the use of VAR will result in a need for trained and skilled referees that are able to handle the complexity of refereeing and communicating clearly with the on-field crew and VAR. Also, I believe there will be a need for more referees as the use of VAR expands.”
The view from the officials – Ismail Elfath
“It hasn’t hit me yet, but I’m starting to gather that 08/12/16 is a memorable date in soccer. I’m immensely humbled and happy to play a part in soccer history.
“This is a major milestone in the ever-evolving profession that we are in; I see nothing but a bright future for refereeing now that we have such a valuable tool at our disposal. Congratulations must go to all involved in making it a reality.
“As referees, we share the same passion for the game as any avid fan, so any tool that helps in correcting clear errors of game changing decisions is very much welcomed. The testing so far has eased the concerns regarding game flow, so we are happy.
“I was very pleased with the game – there was little yet crucially positive impact of video replay on the match. Credit must go to the many involved over the past several months to ensure a successful introduction of video replay. Especially Mr. Elleray of the IFAB, PRO, and MLS leadership.
“Except for the couple of occasions Allen and I communicated, it was just like any other game. Of course I knew he was always ‘checking’ for any clear errors using the VAR protocol and that’s assuring.
“Allen is a fantastic referee and having him as VAR along with the rest of the video operators and technicians allowed for a very successful first game.”