The Definitive Angle: MLS Week 13

The Definitive Angle is PRO’s analysis of the week’s Video Review use in MLS.

Week 13 overview

There were six Video Reviews during Week 13 – three of which were for possible handball offenses.


RBNY vs VAN: Review for a penalty kick (handling) – not given


Starting Point – On-field Decision: Play on.

What Happened: Sean Nealis (RBNY) attempted to head the ball to clear a cross, however, he missed the header, and the ball struck his outstretched arm that was in an unnatural position away from his body. The referee was not sure if the ball had first come off Nealis’ head or his arm so he allowed play to continue.

After review the referee correctly gave a penalty to Vancouver Whitecaps.

The Video Review Process:

  • The referee alerted the VAR to a possible handball that he had not seen clearly.
  • As soon as the ball had gone out for a goal kick, the VAR asked the referee to delay the restart. The referee acknowledged the delay and asked goalkeeper Luis Robles (RBNY) to wait on taking the goal kick.
  • During the delay, while the VAR was doing his check, Robles took the goal kick without the referee’s signal, so play was halted to allow for the Review to be completed.
  • Forty seconds after the incident, the VAR recommended a Video Review for a penalty kick.

PRO’s Decision: This is a clear handling offense as the arm is outstretched and away from the body in an unnatural position and this was a good use of the Video Review system.

As players, especially goalkeepers, become more aware of the way Video Review works, PRO has seen more incidences where players attempt to take a quick restart to not allow Video Review to come into play despite the referees asking them to wait. PRO is working with its officials to be more proactive with the players so that there is no appearance of play having been restarted before a check has been completed or a review has been recommended.


CHI vs NYC: Review for offside in the APP leading to a goal – given


Starting Point – On-field Decision: Offside – No goal.

What Happened: A goal was scored by CJ Sapong (CHI) but disallowed by the on-field officials due to an offside offense in the APP. However, the raising of the flag to indicate offside was correctly delayed by the assistant referee until the end of the attacking move, which in this case was when the ball entered the goal. This opened up a window for the VAR to check the footage in order to establish if the disallowing of the goal was a clear and obvious error.

The VAR could see that Brandt Bronico (CHI) who had been penalized for being in an offside position when he received the ball, was being played onside by Anton Tinnerholm (NYC). The referee looked at the footage in the RRA and having done so he concurred with the VAR and awarded a goal.

PRO’s Decision: This was an excellent use of the delayed offside procedure and Video Review.


CHI vs NYC: Review for a penalty kick – given


Starting Point – On-field Decision: Penalty.

What Happened: With the score at 1-1, a penalty kick was awarded to New York City when Raheem Edwards (CHI) was adjudged to have fouled Alexandru Mitrita (NYC) inside the Chicago Fire penalty area. The foul was clear.

The Video Review Process:

  • Using the Right 18 camera, the VAR identified the foul outside the area in 15 seconds.
  • The VAR took a second look to make sure that none of the contact had continued into the penalty area. There was no contact inside the penalty area.
  • Forty-five seconds in he recommended a Video Review and sent the Right 18 camera angle to the RRA for the referee to look at.
  • The referee reversed his original penalty kick decision, correctly replacing it with the award of a direct free-kick to New York City just outside the Chicago Fire penalty area.

PRO’s Decision: This was another excellent and efficient use of the Video Review system.


NE vs DC: Review for (handling) penalty kick in the 8th minute – not given


Starting Point – On-field Decision: Play on.

What Happened: A shot by Carles Gil (NE) came into D.C. United’s penalty area and was blocked by the left arm of Russell Canouse (DC), before being cleared. The arm of Canouse was very close to his body when contact with the ball was made. The referee allowed play to continue.

On seeing the contact between the arm and the ball, the VAR recommended a Video Review for a possible penalty kick.

The referee looked at the footage in the RRA but determined that the actions of Canouse did not warrant the awarding of a penalty kick and therefore retained his original no-penalty decision.

PRO’s Decision: This was the correct outcome. Although the situation, like most handballs, is subjective, and some may argue a penalty kick could be justified because there is some movement of the arm before it made contact with the ball, under current interpretation of handball, whereby players are penalized when the arm position is outside their normal silhouette, a no-penalty decision, in this case, was a correct outcome and this was not a clear and obvious error. As such, this Video Review recommendation was unnecessary.


NE vs DC: Review for (handling) penalty kick in the 86th minute – not given


Starting Point – On-field Decision: Play on.

What Happened: With the score at 1-0 to New England Revolution in the closing stages of the game, a shot by Steve Birnbaum (DC) was blocked by the left hand of Brandon Bye (NE). Although the shot only traveled a short distance before making contact with Bye’s hand, the arm moved up into the path of the ball as the shot was being taken and the hand was in an unnatural position at the moment of contact, raised almost to head height and not within the player’s normal silhouette.

The Video Review Process:

  • The VAR saw the ball hit the hand on the Left 18 and Tight Cameras.
  • Noting the high hand position when contact was made on the ball, he decided that he would recommend a Video Review for the awarding of a penalty kick.
  • Before he recommended a Video Review, he quickly went back to the start of the APP to make sure that there wasn’t a prior offside offense.
  • The VAR recommended a review for a penalty.
  • The referee looked at the footage in the RRA and having done so awarded a penalty kick to D.C. United.

PRO’s Decision: This was the correct outcome and a good use of the Video Review system.


TOR vs SJ: Review for violent conduct – not given


Starting Point – On-field Decision: Foul and yellow card.

What Happened: After Cristian Espinoza (SJ) had offloaded the ball to a colleague in the Toronto FC half of the field of play, and then moved to his next position, he was held by Ashtone Morgan (TFC). Espinoza reacted by swinging his right arm back towards Morgan, making contact with his opponent’s face. Morgan went to ground, clutching his face. The referee stopped the game and issued a yellow card to Espinoza for what he deemed to be a reckless act.

A Video Review was recommended, and the referee looked at the footage in the RRA. Having done so, the referee retained his original yellow card decision, judging that the action of Espinoza fell short of violent conduct and could be more suitably described as reckless, from a player trying to break away from being held. He factored in the aspect that Espinoza was not looking at Morgan when his arm moved backward.

The Video Review Process:

  • The VAR got to the point of contact and selected Left 18 and High Right EZ to check the play.
  • He looked at the play in both full speed and slow motion.
  • The VAR formed the opinion that the fist was clenched and that the swing of the arm was more than would typically be seen from a player simply flailing an arm to break away from being held.
  • The referee looked at the footage from the High Right EZ camera in both full speed and regular speed and decided to retain his decision of yellow card.

PRO’s Decision: Although a red card for violent conduct could be supported in this case, it is clear there is some subjectivity regarding the intention of the player and also as to whether the force used was reckless or violent conduct. As such, the showing of a yellow card is a credible and acceptable outcome and was not a clear and obvious error, and as such a Video Review was unnecessary.