Since introducing Video Review to all competitive MLS games during the 2017 season, PRO has been at the forefront of developing the use of technology in soccer games.
For the first time in the competition’s history, VR is set to be used at the FIFA World Cup later this month where two PRO referees, Mark Geiger and Jair Marrufo, and three assistant referees, Joe Fletcher, Frank Anderson and Corey Rockwell, will be among the officials.
After successfully launching VR, Howard Webb has become general manager at PRO, meaning VR operations now fall under the remit of Greg Barkey, an MLS assistant referee from 1996 to 2015 before putting his flag to one side an assuming the role of manager of assistant referees.
Now manager of VR operations as well, he is intent on getting the most out of the technology, and maintaining MLS’ status as a trail-blazer in the field alongside top European leagues.
“We learn new things every week – how to improve on the technical side, how to improve our efficiency in conducting checks in our video operation rooms, as well as improving how we make our decisions about when to get involved, or when not to,” Barkey began to explain.
“We’re often in contact with the Bundesliga and Serie A because we share what we have learned and get feedback from them, and we can see from our data that we are very similar in what’s happening.
“It’s quite fascinating to see how similar we are in the number of reviews and checks we do. It’s really interesting to see that we’re on par with those around the world in terms of video review – all three leagues are averaging around one review every three matches.
“Recently, we took an incident in the German Bundesliga that didn’t go very well and learned from it straight away. We changed certain policies and procedures so that the same thing won’t happen here.
“Our learning is regular and ongoing, so that every time something happens, not just in the United States but anywhere in the world, we analyze it and see how we can improve.”
Although there are plenty of similarities between their approach to VR and that of other countries, there are also a number of differences that set PRO’s operation apart from the crowd.
Barkey is approaching the task in hand with ample experience in assisting referees – his 20 years involved with MLS officiating saw him fulfil more than 300 assignments – and he says it makes sense for someone with his background to be at the helm.
“In the laws of the game, the AR and VAR are now together under Law 6 as the ‘other match officials’, so it makes me feel like I’m a Law 6 Manager because they have similar roles; they’re both assisting the referee,” he said.
“It makes sense that someone in my position would do both because it’s all about assisting the referee and helping the referee be more accurate.”
While Barkey readily admits that learning is being done every day as PRO moves forward with the use of video technology, the organization is also being learned from as leagues from across the globe look to take the same steps.
Plenty of learning will have been done ahead of this summer in particular, which will see VR hit the biggest stage yet – the 2014 FIFA World Cup reached 3.2 billion viewers, with 1 billion of those watching the final alone.
“When we were in London [at an IFAB VAR Workshop meeting], a lot of countries were approaching us to find out a lot more about how we train people, how we set it up and how we communicate.
“Our procedures are a live document because we’re constantly tweaking and adjusting to improve, not only on the operational side but also how to improve the communication with players, technical staff and the supporters.
“At the World Cup, FIFA will have many more resources that we currently do not have – extra cameras, extra replay operators, extra assistants – they will be using a deluxe version of VR if you will, so we’re really hoping that FIFA’s system works and that the VARs do well.”