clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Allen Chapman will make soccer history in New York Red Bulls II's next game

The first Video Assistant Referee in pro soccer history is going to become the first referee to have experienced both being a VAR and being VARred in live, competitive games.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Stick around after the New York Red Bulls play New England Revolution at Red Bull Arena on August 28 and you will witness a little pro soccer history. Allen Chapman - the first Video Assistant Referee in the history of professional soccer - is expected to be the center ref for NYRB II's game against FC Cincinnati. Chapman wasn't just the first VAR in pro soccer history, to date he is the only VAR pro soccer has ever known: he also manned the monitors for the second-ever VAR-assisted competitive match.

NYRB II's game against FC Cincinnati will be the third time VAR has been deployed in live, competitive, professional soccer - and by managing the match on the field, Chapman will become the first official to have reffed a VAR-assisted game and played VAR himself.

We'll learn the identity of Chapman's VAR for the match in due course. If it is one of the two men to act as center ref in one of the two VAR-assisted games to date, then August 28 will see the world immediately gain not one but two match officials who have both been VAR and VARred in live, competitive pro soccer. (We already know it won't be Hilario Grajeda, since he's penciled in to referee the Portland-Seattle game in MLS on the same day.)

What does appear to be happening during the live tests of video replay technology being held during NYRB II's last five home games of the USL regular season is PRO is rotating the experience among its more senior referees. Ismail Elfath was the first VAR-assisted center ref; Hilario Grajeda was in control for the second game; now Chapman takes his turn in the middle. They are all experienced refs who regularly manage MLS matches.

It would appear PRO is, prudently, getting its refs ready for the (increasingly likely, it would appear) possibility that VARs will be deployed in MLS in 2017.

In the two games played with VAR help to date, there have been no great controversies. On Elfath's watch, a couple of VAR interventions saw fouls upgraded to red and yellow cards respectively. Grajeda turned a foul on the edge of the box into a penalty kick after reviewing a play at the VAR's suggestion.

The lack of controversy is in part down to the simple fact these games are played in the relative obscurity of USL. There isn't the the same gleeful questioning of referee's decisions and endless replays provided by typical MLS TV coverage. So far, when a ref is reviewing a play, the match broadcast politely watches from a distance while the commentary team discusses what may or may not be the outcome of the review. On a national broadcast, expect endless replays of the incident as commentators actively seek to predict the referee's decision.

And we haven't seen much discussion to date of calls missed entirely. After NYRB II's last home game, Louisville City FC let it be known there was at least one decision it would have liked to have seen reviewed. Currently, there is no mechanism for coaches or players to formally request the VAR's intervention. The process is entirely controlled by the referee and the VAR: if the VAR sees something, the VAR will say something; if the VAR is silent, the call (or lack thereof) stands. That system will almost certainly be challenged as soon as video replay is deployed to a league with a bigger TV audience and the sort of exhaustive second-guessing of decisions viewers have to expect from their commentators. (And, nonetheless, it almost certainly should not be changed: if teams are allowed challenges, they will effectively be able to stop play at will at least once a game - which will inevitably be abused for tactical advantage at some point.)

The organization behind the VAR tests - IFAB - has made it clear it does not expect the use of video replays to eliminate controversial calls. "We couldn't achieve it because so many decisions are subjective," said IFAB Technical Director David Elleray, back in July.

Chapman's stint in the middle might provide opportunity for that subjectivity to be challenged by the VAR system. He was the referee who yellow-carded Bradley Wright-Phillips back in the 2014 Eastern Conference playoff final. A decision that seemed harsh, but not wrong - until a couple of weeks ago, when PRO's Paul Rejer radically reinterpreted the rules on challenging the goalkeeper, and thereby inadvertently suggested that Chapman's decision to even blow his whistle at BWP was incorrect.

There will be a controversial decision or two that VAR either cannot resolve or will exacerbate. And it is likely to occur for the reason highlighted by the apparent difference of opinion between Chapman and Rejer on what constitutes a foul on the 'keeper: different referees see things differently, and therefore two heads will not always be better than one.