Major League Soccer is hoping to implement video-assisted refereeing as early as the 2017 season, according to MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who made the announcement as part of his annual State of the League address on the eve of MLS Cup 2016.
Video Assistant Referee (VAR) experiments have been conducted in select leagues around the world over recent months, including this past summer during competitive matches in the United Soccer League (USL), the US third tier league.
However, beginning in 2017, testing will happen in competitive MLS matches with a view to permanently adopting video technology later in the summer.
“For the first part of the 2017 season, we will test video assistance for our referees,” Garber said during Friday’s State of the League address. "And our goal will be to implement VAR — Video Assistant Referees — during the second half of the MLS season, after the MLS All-Star Game.
"When ready, this innovation will allow our league to be stronger, it will allow our referees to have better technology to be able to support their decisions on the field or allow right decisions to be made.”
The Video Assistant Referee initiative, as outlined by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) which oversees the Laws of the Game, consists of an additional referee positioned in a booth with technology that allows access to video at a finger’s touch from every available camera angle.
A communications system allows the VAR to alert and advise the head referee on “game-changing” decisions: goals, penalty decisions, direct red card incidents, mistaken identity.
MLS was selected in June 2016 as one of six leagues around the world to conduct video replay testing in a series of competitive USL matches held at Red Bull Arena, involving the New York Red Bulls II reserve team. MLS has also hosted VAR workshops in recent months, drawing attendees from around the world to study progress and share best practices relating to the implementation and use of the technology.
"We've received great support from IFAB, great support from FIFA, great support from the CSA and US Soccer and it’s something that we’re very excited to be one of the few leagues in the world that will hopefully enact VAR in 2017."