MLS Rules

Would replay help referees make key decisions?

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Saturday’s disappointing, frustratingly impotent loss to the Houston Dynamo had one major controversy after the match completed. Keon Daniel’s free kick, which was somewhere between an overbaked cross and a brilliant shot, befuddled Hall and hit the twine. All looked roses for the Philadelphia Unionย โ€” until referee Mark Kadlecik looked to his assistant.

Their discussion was brief, but they decided that Amobi Okugo had interfered with Hall while in an offside position. The goal was waved off, and the Union never found the goal again. Since then, the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) and its chief Peter Walton have declared the call incorrect. That is little solace for the Union, who desperately needed a good result to further their playoff aspirations.

Asking assistant vs. consulting replay

When Kadlecik asked the assistant for more information, the judgment on the play was based on a flawed account. The assistant interpreted Okugo’s action incorrectly. You can’t fault the officials though, because the game is fast and the determination was made in a split second.

The sad fact is that the fan at home has a better chance to make that call than Kadlecik. If PRO used replay to declare the call incorrect, it’s tough to find a good reason why the officials in Chester shouldn’t have had that benefit.

Purism vs. advancement

Tradition can be an overrated element to any sports rules discussion. Without naming every ideological battle, every sport has one of these fights between the Purist and the Revolutionary โ€” and each sport has its own level of reluctance to change. The NFL has been at the forefront, while baseball and soccer have held onto deep-seated beliefs on the sanctity of the role of the human arbiter.

Once a purist at heart, I’ve seen the benefits of a good replay system over time. The NFL has worked hard to iron out the kinks, and generally speaking gets more calls right because of it. The NFL’s system biggest weakness is time, normally taking minutes rather than seconds when recourse is made to replays.

MLS could benefit from a replay system, but it would have to be narrowly defined. MLS has already declared that they cannot at present afford goal-line technology. Butt, you don’t need expensive technology, just well-positioned cameras. The NHL has been doing this, and MLS could implement cameras in the goal without much financial hardship.

Another aspect of the NHL’s system that MLS could use is a dedicated replay official. This would allow replay to happen while play continues. The head referee would have direct contact with the replay official via headset. Rather than an NFL coaching challenge system, the replay official would notify the head referee of any necessary change in ruling, and the proper course of action could then be taken.

Situational replays

Only a select few types plays should be reviewed:

  • All goals (or disallowed goals) should be quickly reviewed to confirm the integrity of the goal (i.e. not offside, no foul involved, and whether the ball entered the goal).ย 
  • All plays where a referee believes a penalty should be awarded (only overturned if replay proves either outside the 18 or if contact is clearly not made).
  • Situations where the possibility of malicious behavior exists.

The first bullet point would have allowed a replay official to inspect Okugo’s role in the Daniel goal. Chances are likely that the goal would have been awarded.

Replay calls can go each way. A replay official with the chance to take a hard look at Sheanon Williams’ goal line clearance against F.C. Dallas in July would likely have ruled that the ball had completely crossed the line. Such intervention could take place without stopping play, and if a goal was deemed to have occurred, the referee would then halt play and award the goal. Play resumes from the center circle, and time can be tacked on at the end if deemed necessary.

As for the other two bullet points, a real-time retroactive replay could help curb diving and assist the head referee in providing the appropriate justice for events. The key is that much of this can be done in the booth, not stopping play in the process. If we were to use the situation where Matt Besler was given yellow in Costa Rica while playing for the USMNT, the replay booth could confirm that Joel Campbell simulated, and give Marco Rodriguez the chance to discipline the forward for his actions.

There will always be human error. Many would argue that should rule out technology altogether. But referees and league can use technology in measured ways to improve the integrity of match officiating and rightly punish behavior that warrants discipline.

Leave your thoughts below whether you agree, disagree, or think that other methods or situations would be more appropriate.


  1. I disagree. I don’t mind goal line technology, but i don’t want this sport to be baseball or football. I don’t want constant shitty beer commercials while 4 jagoffs stare at replays for 15 minutes.
    Here is the deal there is no guarantee that Keon goal would be changed even after the replay was viewed. Even after the replay the wide variety of interpretations of what the correct call should have been, that even after 10 minutes of watching people stand around the call still could have been no goal.

    And stopping the game to check for malice or diving would be insane, the NBA and the NFL have no way of telling unless blatant and neither can soccer.
    How long would you be willing to sit around just to find out Keon needs to be sent off too in the Vancouver game.

    • I understand what you mean about the commercials, but that has more to do with Sales than sport.

      It took about 2 minutes for the whole Daniel-Davidson thing to play out anyways. Watching the replay, you can tell in about 10 seconds that Keon deserved read. If both teams knew that call was backed by the review, would they bother to appeal to the center ref for a minute?

    • There is no reason that a review should take more than 30 seconds, if that, and it wouldn’t happen more than handful of times per game. There wouldn’t be constant checking and stopping if the referees were told ahead of time what the exact nature of the reviews would be. It is clear that nearly everyone wants the game to be as free flowing as possible with the least amount of starting and stopping so there isn’t any reason to think they would implement limited reviews in a way that would change that. You can’t compare it to football as football has constant stoppage built into the way the game is played.

    • Replay has almost made the NFL unwatchable. I agree with Sieve!, the great about soccer is that the clock doesn’t stop. Now you are adding referee stoppage time for review, so we can now whine about how little or much stoppage we should get/or dont want each game. And there is no way a review will take 30 seconds. It will take the ref 5 mins just to get to the replay booth, hope that the cameras actually caught the play, cue it up, etc.

      NHL also has it somewhat easier being indoors, so the above the net cam is fixed to rafters MLS wont have.

      What are we really solving for, to overturn an occasional blown call? I’d rather we just accept it as part of the game and move on. The costs would be greater than you’re estimating, it isn’t just cameras, but people to review, extra match officials, people to support the technology. All to catch and award one lucky ass Keon shot. I heard the PRO opinion, and frankly I’m still not convinced Hall isn’t interfered with by Okugo.

      • Why would you get a the center ref to walk to a replay booth when you can either have the 4th official right next to one on field or have a fifth official watching everything on camera and consulting only when asked by the center ref

      • Most of your arguments against this don’t hold any value. The NFL is not unwatchable because of replay, it actually plays right into the hands of the NFL as they get the massive amounts of money they want from commercials and the typical NFL fan gets his 2 minute beer or potty break. When a goal is awarded or disallowed the play would continue, and a replay official would IMMEDIATELY review it. It takes one look to know whether or not it is close, and by 30 seconds or less he will know if the call was incorrect. Like NFL replay he has to be positive, and if it comes to a judgement call the offside then nothing changes. No on is the worse for wear, and nothing is different than it is right now. And there are already cameras behind the goals in stadiums now so that should suffice, and if not the camera on a crane behind the goals should get a good look at it.
        People were reluctant to get replay in the NFL and MLB but now most fans will endure it to make sure the call is right. During the game MLS should ONLY review questionable goals, and not on the basis of judgement calls (i.e. Okugo’s offsides), and during the time it takes to set up and take a free kick or penalty (can sometimes be more than a minute) an official could determine if additional action should be taken, i.e. yellow or red. Besides that there is nothing to review. This wouldn’t be as cumbersome as many believe.

  2. Nicely done.

    I’m strongly in favor of replay. In my opinion, the 4th official should watch replays either during play or, when a major call is needed, with play stopped. This shouldn’t add any extra time, since most PK calls result in players arguing with the ref anyways. The 4th ref should also try to identify coordinated group fouling and actually keep real stoppage time. It’s a bit silly that time-wasting in dead-ball situations is even possible.

    It seems that the refs should be in favor of replay as well. Isn’t it a bit odd that the refs are not publically involved in the discussion? Also, I’ve seen at least one disallowed goal against Montreal (I think), where the ref paused to seemingly get radio input before making the call. My guess (i.e. conspiracy theory) is that some refs are secretly using replay already. I, for one, would prefer the secret implementation if it means that I won’t have to hear the “human error is part of game” argument again.

    • The ref was probably getting secret feedback from the fourth official. I saw the fourth official call a penalty in a Chivas-SJ game last year. I totally agree that the fourth official should be more involved — if they actually did count fouls and give PI calls for group fouling, Danny Cruz would draw even more cards than he already does.

    • All officials have headsets so they can talk to each other, and sometimes an assistant sees something different. This backfired in the US-Costa Rica game as Besler clearly did nothing wrong yet the assistant determined he deserved a yellow card.

      • The one obvious flaw with having the fourth official review is that he’s already supposed to be dealing with managers, subs, etc. Plus he gets to stand in place and get harrassed for the rest of the game if they don’t like his interpretation.

  3. It would, I think, have to be something that could resolve quickly – a minute or less – given soccer’s nature of never stopping the clock. If it gets to the point where 4, 5, 6 minutes are elapsing before a goal is given (or taken away) that can hurt the integrity of the match, since teams play differently depending on the score. Yes, those minutes would get added back on at the end as extra stoppage time. But how loud would the cries be if a review took 5 minutes, and in that time a player was injured? Would cards handed out during that time period be nullified? What about ensuing goals?
    For all those, it would need to be a real fast replay system. If it can be done in 60 seconds or less, I’m all for it.

    • Hockey resolves it where anything if a goal is first disallowed (play continues), they review at the next whistle. If the goal is then allowed, they reset the clock back to the time it happened and everything afterwards is wiped out. I’m pretty sure this includes minor penalties. I’m not sure if major penalties would be wiped out but my guess is that they would still stand. I’m pretty sure misconducts that happen during the ensuing play would still stand. (i.e. you swing your stick at someone’s head, you’re still getting thrown out of the game.)

  4. I also can be on board for goal line technologies with instant feedback to the referee only b/c goals can be so rare and hard fought they should be not pulled back (or given) on a bad (though maybe honest) call. –Twirling red light and horn above the goal NHL style anyone? ๐Ÿ™‚
    But that’s it… I shudder at the thought of stopping play, plus review would only work for calls, not non-calls… so you are only solving half the perceived problem. Do you actually stop play b/c a coach goes nuts on a non call?
    What am I all for is post-game review for malicious play (which we do) AND un-sportsmanlike conduct.
    I believe the game would be greatly improved if flagrant flopping were given a 1 game suspension, and perhaps 2 games if flop results in a PK.

  5. While I agree with goal line technology replay (did the ball cross the line?), I’m not sold on the others. The biggest problem with the first two bullet points is that they work in one direction and not the other. While a goal might be called back because offsides was missed, once the ref blows the whistle for offsides, the team doesn’t get the ball back on a breakaway when it is realized that the whistle was incorrect.

    Likewise, when the ref decides a call isn’t a penalty, there is no chance to go back if replay shows it should have been.

    My thought is that replay should NOT have overturned the call in the Union game. Okugo was clearly in an offsides position. It then becomes the referee’s judgement as to whether he may have affected the outcome. I thought the replay was inconclusive on this point which normally means the call on the field stands.

    We saw something similar to this in the Sunderland-Arsenal game Saturday where Jozy Altidore’s advantage was called back when the ref blew the whistle (a much more blatent mistake in my opinion than the one in the Union game). Again, though, if you listened carefully, you could hear the whistle blow before the shot, so the keeper could say he stopped going 100% once the whistle blew (even though he didn’t) and there is no way to go back and award the goal.

    Regarding malicious behaviour, there should be a review after the game is over. The league already reviews and hands out suspensions. However, I think there should be a more in depth review of all cards. The referee should be required to give an explanation of all cards to the league (or other governing body). After reviewing the replay league can rescind a card where appropriate and even hand one out to someone else. A perfect example of this would be Bessler’s card against Costa Rica. Under a review policy, that card could have been rescinded and Campbell could have retroactively received one. Yes, it would have to be a blatent miscall, but in cases like that where the ref just flat out gets it wrong, there would be a mechanism to correct.

  6. Does anyone else see the irony between this article which asks for replay to check if the ball crossed the line and the one John Ling wrote 15 minutes earlier which flat out says don’t cross the line?

    (Sorry, John, I know your subject is serious and important, but I couldn’t resist.)

  7. Also another point to consider. Do you really want refs like Mark Geiger to have more power to make the game all about them? Do you want the refs to have the power to stop the game at their whim and check every little thing?

    • Please no – their arrogance is already too much to take.

    • No, I want a replay official above to make sure that Mark Geiger is making the right call.

    • And let me add, in the article, I detail that the replay official should be performing a replay while the play continues. The assumption is that the ref’s call was proper, until proven otherwise.

      • Now that’s just crazy talk.
        After further review…Farfan should have been red carded prior to clearing the opposing teams goal behind the goal line than scoring a goal himself. As such his goal stand, the oppostions goal counts and he is now sent off. Please adjust the score from 1-0 to 1-1.

      • There is no reason for it to happen the way you just described. At any point that a ref on the field whistles the play dead and there is any question about what happened he radios up to the fifth official who is watching the camera feed. That can’t take more than a moment; it doesn’t take long for them to show the replay on the jumbotron and it can’t take them too much longer to rewatch any controversial plays

      • That is insane you are going to potentially negate play while someone somewhere else makes a call that may take 3-10 minutes. That is just crazy.

      • In what world would it take that long to review a play. I can’t believe that you really think it would take that long

      • Well then that settles it. Stop play. I’m glad that the power of negative suggestion has helped to bring you guys around to the idea of replay being effective. ๐Ÿ˜›

  8. Another year, another PSP change the game post.
    Soccer, Futbol, Footy or whatever its called is perfect just the way it is.
    Seems to be thriving more than ever.

    • It’s amazing that all of this forward thinking mumbo-jumbo hasn’t just completely and utterly caused the ruination of the game and society as a whole.

      • Yea because what would make the game better is a ton of delays over ticky tack calls. Because every sport must drag on forever.

    • I say return to the early days without offside, shin guards, or cards; make the game pure again.

    • Of course! Racist soccer hooligans, bad refereeing, RFK Stadium, divers, match-fixing — everything is perfect!

      Earl’s column is a good one. I don’t agree with it — I’m not a fan of instant replay in any sport — but he makes a good case and provides thoughtful content you didn’t have before.

      So yes, this is what PSP does. Agreement is not required. But if it makes you think, then something good came of it.

  9. Glad to see PSP is taking its cues from Hackworth in failing to move on from the non-goal.

  10. Replay in soccer is impossible on run-of-play calls. What the referee does on the field is 25% Laws of the Game and 75% judgment. Think of all those situations when a player in the box gets pushed, but only a little. Everyone knows it’s a foul (according to the Laws), but the ref has to judge whether the foul is worth calling. Having a replay official over the ref’s shoulder is going to make his judgment worse, not better.

  11. thankfully this will never happen.

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