The New York Red Bulls II are leading professional soccer toward its future, hosting the first live tests of the "Video Assistant Referee" over the last five home games of their USL regular season.
The first game - played last week - to feature VAR went pretty well from the perspective of those trialing the integration of video replays into soccer refereeing. The second match was played on August 19 - NYRB II's home game against Louisville City FC - and it too seemed to bring further success for the VAR experiment.
There weren't as many VAR-worthy incidents in the Red Bulls' match against Louisville City as there had been in the preceding game against Orlando City B. But there was one: the one that turned the match NYRB II's way.
In the 70th minute, Junior Flemmings gathered a long ball, dribbled into the box and took a fairly ambitious left-footed shot that pinged off two defenders. The ball bounced back to Flemmings, who was toppled as he sought to control it. Referee Hilario Grajeda called the foul, but did not call a penalty. Not immediately.
It was only after reviewing the play on the sideline video that Grajeda pointed to the spot.
There was a penalty called in the NYRB II's first VAR-assisted match, but that was a call made on the field by the center referee and there was no sideline review. So Grajeda's penalty call was the first time a PK has been awarded thanks to the intervention of video replay technology.
Those familiar with Grajeda's work - particularly his recent showing in the LA Galaxy vs RBNY MLS match on August 7 - are unlikely to be surprised by the news that he is the first referee to call on the VAR's help in identifying a penalty. In LA, Grajeda let three solid penalty shouts go uncalled. It was clear he needed some assistance with spotting PKs.
Fortunately for NYRB II - for whom the ensuing spot-kick goal was a match-winner that clinched a playoff berth for the team - VAR was around to set Grajeda straight.