Soccer video review gains steam as controversial calls mount

The debate about video replay in professional soccer has intensified with two high-profile endorsements amid a plethora of controversial referee calls in matches around the globe.

Two weeks ago, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber reiterated his continuing support for replay on the heels of United States Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s thumbs-up.

“The last thing you want to see is that a game is decided by referee mistakes,” Klinsmann said in a video released recently by US Soccer. “They’re human; they make mistakes. But we live at a time when technology is just outstanding.”

The NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and NHL all use some form of video replay, and even FIFA, which has dragged its feet for years on the issue, has finally come around.

Gianni Infantino started his FIFA presidency earlier this year by announcing that video replay assistance will become part of the game by the 2017-18 season “at the latest” for goals, red cards, mistaken identities and penalties.

“We have taken a historic decision for football,” Infantino said in March. “We have shown we are listening to the fans, the players and to football, and we are applying common sense.”

Even general manager Peter Walton of the Professional Referee Organization – which supplies referees for MLS, USL and North American Soccer League matches – supports instant replay. He told the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel in April that the sport needs replay and that he’s been “banging the drum” for its implementation.

“It’s encouraging for us to see Peter Walton very bullish on it,” Garber told a group of Associated Press sports editors April 21. “I think the officiating community has said, ‘OK, we get it.’ Every other official in every other sport around the world is doing it. ... I think they have an understanding that it’s going to help the game.”

There have been a number of controversial calls and non-calls in MLS matches this season.

Penalty kick non-calls on clear fouls last weekend may have led to losses for Sporting Kansas City at San Jose and Orlando City SC at the New York Red Bulls.

“It’s every week,” Orlando City coach Adrian Heath said after his team’s 3-2 loss April 24. “Too many times, the outcome of the game is determined by the official, not the people that are participating. That’s a problem.”

In three consecutive matches, the Portland Timbers had players fouled that the MLS Disciplinary Review Committee later determined should have resulted in red cards, denying the defending league champions a chance to play a man up.

Even across the pond there have been issues with referee’s decisions.

Leicester City – the amazing rags-to-riches story that has energized the English Premier League this season – found itself in a huge controversy April 17 when the head official awarded a disputed injury-time penalty kick that enabled the Foxes to tie West Ham United 2-2. Some saw it as a makeup call for referee John Moss’ decision to send off Leicester City star forward Jamie Vardy with a red card earlier in the match for diving in the box.

Republic FC coach Paul Buckle said the cascade of controversial calls reinforces the need for video review.

“There has been plenty of doubt planted in people’s minds on decisions we have seen, whether its MLS, USL or the Premier League,” Buckle said. “There have been some bad calls and a couple of decisions in MLS which were beyond belief. Things have to improve.”

Republic FC has been victimized by several questionable calls during USL play.

A Sacramento team that has struggled to score goals through its first six league matches has had three goals nullified on offside or obstruction calls.

Sacramento also saw San Jose Earthquakes loan player Adam Jahn ejected on a straight red card after a bang-bang play with the Portland Timbers 2 goalkeeper in the 75th minute on April 17. Republic FC lost one of its biggest scoring threats and played the last 15 minutes plus stoppage time a man down in the 1-0 loss on the road.

“That was a game changer,” Buckle said. “That’s why I’m for (video review), especially on massive decisions when the ball has gone dead and they have the opportunity to look back. We need to give the officials as much help as possible.”

What form video replay will take is still in the birthing stages before going to the live pilot phase in 2017-18. MLS already has run replay trials through several teams the past few seasons on calls for red cards, penalty kicks and goals. Other leagues around the world are gearing up with test runs, too, though the International Football Association Board already has ruled out allowing coaches to challenge calls, as the NFL does with its challenge flag system.

Buckle said that is a good decision.

“You’ve got to be careful not to disrupt the game,” Buckle said. “I think where it’s a big call, a penalty or not a penalty, certainly. It only takes a little time to look at it and decide if it needs to be called back.

“If there is offside and you go clean through on goal like we have a couple of times and the flag goes up, I’m not so certain,” he said. “You can’t stop the game to review every call.”

Buckle thinks there might be fewer controversial calls if game officials were more collaborative.

“You have a referee and two linesmen and a fourth official (on the sideline),” Buckle said. “There are enough eyes to spot things and make a correct call ... but very rarely do you see one official overrule the other.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP