MLS referees erred in disallowing a goal after reviewing video in each of the past two D.C. United matches, one reversal that cost Ben Olsen’s team and another that benefited it.
Those were the conclusions of the Professional Referees Organization, an independent group that oversees officiating in the U.S.-based soccer leagues.
In addressing the most recent decision, a controversial call during United’s 3-1 victory over Columbus on Saturday at Audi Field, PRO said Wednesday that the Crew’s apparent goal in the 22nd minute should have stood.
It blamed both video assistant referee Kevin Terry Jr. and referee Ted Unkel for the mistake.
“The incident should not have been recommended for review by the VAR as the decision to play on was not a clear and obvious error, which is the threshold for VAR intervention,” PRO announced. “Additionally, having reviewed the incident footage, the referee, who has the final decision, should have determined that no foul had been committed in the attacking phase of play and that the original call, and therefore the goal by [Pedro] Santos, should have stood.”
On the play, Unkel unintentionally interfered with a D.C. United pass directed toward Luciano Acosta near the center circle. Columbus’s Wil Trapp also had converged on the play. In the confusion, Acosta fell. Play continued. Trapp passed to Santos, who, 10 seconds after the collision, scored for a 1-0 lead.
However, Terry recommended Unkel review the play for a possible foul on Trapp. After watching on a sideline monitor, Unkel disallowed the goal.
United scored five minutes later and proceeded to build a three-goal lead.
Afterward, Crew Coach Caleb Porter suggested Unkel, not Trapp, had tripped Acosta and the referee disallowed the goal to “bail himself out.”
United was on the other end of a video review six days earlier in a 1-0 defeat at Minnesota. Donovan Pines appeared to put the visitors ahead with a first-half header. But on video assistant David Gantar’s recommendation, referee Nima Sighafi reviewed the play, then ruled that United’s Frederic Brillant had interfered with goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
In pursuit of Wayne Rooney’s aerial cross, Brillant had placed his left hand on the right upper arm of the leaping Mannone. The contact appears light and brief, and Mannone might not have reached the ball before Pines anyway.
But in Sighafi’s opinion, Brillant had impacted the goalkeeper’s ability to challenge for the ball.
In PRO’s weekly online feature, Greg Barkey, manager of video review, said, “There is contact between Brillant and Mannone. However, it is subjective how much impact that contact had on the ability of the goalkeeper to challenge for this ball. In the end, the referee always has the final decision.”
While Barkey did not take a firm stance on the matter, an internal document obtained by The Washington Post showed PRO General Manager Howard Webb disagreed with the decision.
“Although there is contact . . . and the final outcome has some merit, it is subjective as to how impactive the contact on the goalkeeper was,” Webb wrote. “In my opinion, the initial on-field decision to award a goal was not a clear and obvious error and as such the VAR should not have recommended a review in this case.”
In both the Columbus match and the Minnesota match, PRO concluded, the video assistant was at fault for suggesting a review.
Video replay was introduced by MLS on a trial basis in August 2017 and entered into FIFA’s Laws of the Game in time for the World Cup last summer in Russia. The UEFA Champions League, Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A are using VAR; the Premier League will adopt it next season.
Four situations can prompt a review: goals, penalty-kick decisions, direct red cards and cases of mistaken identity on yellow or red cards.
For United, technology worked for and against it within one week.
“It’s a night where those things go our way,” Olsen said after the Columbus match. The Minnesota match “maybe didn’t go our way. Usually these things even themselves out. . . . I’m not a negative VAR guy because it’s just the future. It’s going to happen. They’ll get it better.”