Instant replay is on its way into professional soccer.
On Wednesday we saw the first-ever decision by the “video assistant referee.” It happened in a match at the FIFA Club World Cup between Colombian side Atlético Nacional and the Japanese champions Kashima Antlers. A Kashima player was run over in the penalty area, but the referees originally decided that he had been offside at the time. After being alerted by the video assistant, referee Viktor Kassai trotted over to a monitor on the side of the field and overturned his own decision based on video evidence, retroactively awarding Kashima a penalty.
Soon we’ll see the same sort of thing in Major League Soccer. Commissioner Don Garber announced last week that a similar system will be used in the first half of next season. The video assistant will be able to look at replays and alert the center referee of mistakes on goals, red cards, penalty decisions or cases in which the referee might have punished the incorrect player.
Overall, I’m in favor of this system. Soccer is dragged down by all manner of attempts to deceive the referee, whether diving in the penalty area or exaggerating fouls in hopes of getting the opposition punished. Setting aside ad hominem attacks about cheating players, the worst thing about the cheating is that it works. A penalty or a red card changes a game irretrievably, and punishment for dives is rare. Giving an eye in the sky the power to get the decision correct — and punish cheaters as well, in a perfect world — will level the playing field, and reduce the benefit of diving. That said, you only have to look at other sports to realize that, once this power is granted to referees, it immediately changes their approach. It’s natural that they begin to depend on the technology and start to use the video monitor for everything. Why make a contentious call on the field when you can take a look on video and remove all doubt? The game then slows to a crawl, with the referee making endless trips to the monitor. Pretty quickly everyone involved is checking their watch, wondering when soccer games started to take three hours to finish.
Other sports have taken the power from referees and instead given coaches and players the power to challenge. But that causes even more slowdowns. Every close play in baseball is now followed by immediate time-wasting as the manager perches on the top step of the dugout, waiting to find out from his video team whether he should run onto the field and challenge a call.
Soccer is trying to combat this by keeping the video assistant removed from the play and having that person buzz the center referee only in extreme cases. Here’s hoping it works. Getting contentious calls right would be a good thing, overall, but only if it doing so doesn’t ruin the rest of the game along the way.
• Here’s hoping that Woodbury native Kassey Kallman’s new National Womens Soccer League team works out for her. Kallman was traded by Boston, the league’s worst team, to Washington, the league’s regular-season champion. The Spirit, though, already have dealt three key pieces from last year’s team, including USWNT star Ali Krieger.
• I made much of the possibility of Minnesota United getting a homegrown player in the MLS expansion draft, but in the end, the Loons didn’t have that option. Minnesota natives Eric Miller, Teal Bunbury and Cody Cropper were all protected by their respective teams. Montreal didn’t protect Calum Mallace, but it didn’t matter; Atlanta selected Impact midfielder Donny Toia with the first pick, meaning that United couldn’t grab Mallace.
• Minneapolis City SC announced that it will play the 2017 season as part of the National Premier Soccer League, the sprawling semipro national league that is sometimes considered the fourth division of American soccer. It will help reduce the fledgling team’s travel costs. A new NPSL franchise also was announced in Duluth, as well as a new team in St. Paul called Viejos Son Los Trapos FC.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Bundesliga: Hertha Berlin at RB Leipzig, 8:30 a.m. Saturday, FS1. Leipzig’s nine-game winning streak came to a halt last week. Now Leipzig is back below Bayern Munich at the top of the table. After playing host to Hertha, it travels to Bayern on Wednesday before the month-long German winter break begins. Can the upstarts keep their dream season going?
Serie A: Roma at Juventus, 1:45 p.m. Saturday, beIN. Slowly but surely, Juventus has opened up a four-point lead in the Italian standings over Roma, which can’t be thrilled to find itself in second place. Since Roma’s last Serie A title in 2001, the team has finished in second place no fewer than eight times. If this is the year it will finally catch Juventus, a victory Saturday is a must.
Premier League: Arsenal at Manchester City, 10 a.m. Sunday, NBCSN. As Christmas approaches, both teams must be worried about their league place. Arsenal is six points back of the leaders, Manchester City is seven points off the pace. Neither feels like it can afford to drop more points. City is without several players, due to suspension, a bonus for Arsenal.
La Liga: Espanyol at Barcelona, 1:45 p.m. Sunday, beIN. Much is made of Barcelona-Real Madrid games, but this is Barcelona’s local rivalry. Unfortunately for Espanyol, the cross-town neighbors have been dominant. Barcelona has won the last seven games at home against Espanyol by a combined score of 22-1. Espanyol, though, is on a nine-game unbeaten run in the league.