Video Review: How we got here

What was first trialed in a United Soccer League (USL) game in August 2016, was not only used a year later for the first time in Major League Soccer, but also has been utilized in tournaments including the Confederations Cup and the FIFA U-20 World Cup. As a new component to the game, Video Review could play a much more prominent role in soccer around the world in 2018.

Seventeen months after The International Football Association Board (The IFAB) first approved sanctioned trials at their Annual General Meeting (AGM) in March 2016, Video Review became a regular feature in North America, beginning August 5, during the second half of the MLS season.

At that point, six countries expressed an interest to participate in the experiments and, since then, PRO and MLS have been at the forefront of Video Review, working closely with The IFAB. Video Assistant Referees (VARs) were first assigned in Week 22 last year, but not before a lengthy training program was developed and implemented.

“By the time I arrived on March 1, a lot of the groundwork had been done, and done well,” explained PRO Manager of VAR Operations Howard Webb. “A lot of the due diligence had been undertaken, and even dating back to 2014, MLS had been thoroughly exploring and evaluating the possibility of using video replays to assist the officials here.

“I had also been doing some evaluation work with Professional Game Match Officials in England and had been over to Amsterdam to look at the system they were trialing there. I had a good knowledge and understanding of this new technology, but not to the level of the detail they had here.

“My first task was to learn every single detail about the initiative. I wanted to understand what The IFAB had achieved so far and what PRO and MLS had done. I spoke to a lot of people around the world, and it increased my knowledge of this project to better equip me to make a positive impact on what was going to happen here.”

Video Review in MLS timeline

March 2016: IFAB approve trials of Video Review at their AGM

July 2016: IFAB workshop held in New York, attended by representatives of 20 countries, and first “live” tests conducted by PRO officials

August 2016: PRO officials oversee first competitive game using Video Review when New York Red Bulls II host Orlando City B

August 2017: Video Review rolled out in MLS from Week 22

December 2017: Used in MLS Cup for the first time – the biggest domestic club match it has been implemented in so far

After months of finely tuned preparations, including intensive referee training camps and educational sessions that covered more than 100 combined offline and in-game tests, the new fifth member of the officiating crew was called into action 79 minutes into the match between Philadelphia Union and FC Dallas. The whole process from incident to decision – between center referee Ricardo Salazar and VAR Hilario Grajeda – took 46 seconds. Video Review had arrived.

“Sport is very subjective, so it was very important to expose our officials to as much discussion, debate and exercises as possible in order to maintain consistency across our big group,” said Webb.

“Apart from one or two exceptions, this was completely new. Mark Geiger had been exposed to this with FIFA, and before I arrived, the first ever use of video referees happened at Red Bull Arena with Ismail Elfath and Allen Chapman. It was good that we had some practical experience to build on, but in general, the other officials on our training programme had no experience at all, apart from one or two training sessions and pre-season games.

“A basic skeleton of a programme had been put into place for training which I looked at and then worked out how we were going to practically implement it. We had a few months before we were going to go live in August, and it was apparent that we needed to do two things: we needed to expose our people to as much experience as possible, either hands-on with the system or doing some classroom-based exercises using the system.

“The other thing we needed to do was getting people talking about what Video Review is for and why it exists – it’s to deal with clear and obvious errors; it’s not to change the way the game is played. To be effective with that, to have this maximum impact with minimum interference, we needed to get consistency with recognizing a clear error.

“We’ve been to all the clubs, the players, the coaches, and the executives. We’ve been to see the media that broadcast the matches, and the fan groups. We’ve worked really hard to make sure people understand; there is an educational piece to continue, and we’ll keep doing it.”

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