The Case Against VAR
by Joe Patrick
Picture a scene:
An Atlanta United match has entered stoppage time against its fiercest rival (or non-rival?) and the Five Stripes are trailing by a goal. Things look bleak, when suddenly – seemingly out of nowhere – the home side plays some slick combinations from back-to-front. Almiron glides past tired defenders and plays a ball to the feet of Yamil Asad, who has found space between the lines. He takes a deft touch before slipping a ball through the defense to an onrushing Tito Villalba. He puts it past the goalkeeper!
Don’t celebrate. Don’t even think about it. Celebrating would be bad karma at a time like this. Even though the ball has crossed the line and the linesman’s flag is down and nothing has been called, we haven’t scored yet. No, we have to wait. We have to wait for the VAR official in the press box to tell us whether we can celebrate or not. Welcome to the future.
That future, beginning August 5th to be precise, will see this system implemented across Major League Soccer. Every goal will be reviewed for anything that happened in the buildup that could possibly discount it. That means, instead of the instantaneous release of emotion from players and fans, we will have to wait with bated breath to see if the VAR, sitting aloft his ivory tower, will grant us permission to celebrate. At which time, of course, it won’t be the same.
The proponents of the VAR system will tell you that it’s a good thing – that justice will be served on the field of play and no foul deed will go unpunished. Is this why we love sport? Is this why we love soccer? To see a game well officiated? To see justice served on the field of play? No. We love this game because of the passion and because it gives us a chance to disconnect from our daily lives and charge ourselves through the energy of the support.
The game is about the fans, not fairness. Life is unfair and sometimes sport will be too. VAR can be used for administrative assistance (correctly identifying players for bookings, etc.), but when it infringes on the emotion of the supporters and the players, it’s overstepped its boundaries.
The Case for VAR
by Sam Jones
The fans matter most.
The real schism between soccer fans on VAR isn’t centered on a moral debate over the integrity of the game, but rather a fear that the process will ruin the entertainment value for the folks watching in the stands and at home.
Joe’s argument that VAR will cheapen the big moments of a game that hinges on the magnitude of its rare moments of true success is a completely understandable conclusion to reach. However, VAR won’t detract from those moments. It will validate them. The drama will increase. And the weight of those moments will be even heavier.
Look at this ending from college football; a sport that rivals soccer in terms of passionate-to-a-fault fans and general bonkers-ness of its major moments. The sport has used video replay for years.
Last year’s LSU-Auburn game ended with an altogether insane sequence that featured an outcome changing cameo from college football’s version of VAR.
A seemingly game-winning, last-second touchdown from visiting LSU turned into an Auburn win after video review showed that LSU had failed to snap the ball before the clock expired.
You can watch the entire ending here:
Watch all of it if you want, but if you’re in a hurry skip to head referee Hubert Owens (aka SEC Morpheus) announcing that the touchdown won’t count. Do the Auburn fans and players seem like they care they had to wait few seconds to find out if they’d won???
Time again in college football, major moments happen to decide games that are influenced by video review. In almost all those cases, the replays serve to add an extra layer of tension rather than act as a deterrent for the excitement.
Imagine if you were an Orlando City fa—Ok, wait no don’t imagine that. I’m not a sadist.
Imagine though that the roles were reversed on Saturday, and it was Orlando’s Cyle Larin scoring the game-tying goal in stoppage time. But let’s say replay showed him a half-step offside. Would you rather take MARTA home furious that the assistant referee missed the call and cost Atlanta two points? Or, would you rather experience what those Auburn fans did in the span of three minutes? A roller coaster of depression. Hope. Then jubilation.
All that joy, with the knowledge that Atlanta indisputably came out with the win. No question about it.
In similar fashion, Tito’s goal would have been’s a validation as a fan that comes with the fact that we didn’t get by on a fluky miscall by a referee to have that moment.
The best case for VAR though may be this:
Let’s say Tito was offside on Saturday and the goal still counted. Can you imagine having to listen to Orlando City fans whine about the call for the rest of the decade?
Embrace the VAR, y’all.