VAR keeps hitting never-before-seen low points in ways that were hard to imagine when it was first implemented. The Vancouver Whitecaps experienced a new version of outrage during their match against the Montreal Impact on Wednesday night, when replays ruled out one of their goals, due to both the new goalkeeper penalty rule and the older law forbidding players from entering the box before a spot kick is taken:
In the replays, it’s pretty clear that Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush does step off his line and that Vancouver striker Tosaint Ricketts barely edges into the box prior to the kick. However, the on-field official didn’t catch either of these minor infractions in real-time; it was only once VAR stepped in that the ref overruled the rebound goal, forcing Yordy Reyna to take the penalty again, which Bush again saved.
This is one place where UEFA got it right: the European soccer governing body announced that it would not use VAR for ruling whether a goalkeeper was off his line before a penalty is taken. That’s not how it works in MLS, unfortunately for everyone involved. Vancouver will likely feel more aggrieved, as the VAR ruling ruled out a goal that would have stood in years past.
Technically the call was correct, though Bush’s and Ricketts’s offenses are so trivial and commonplace that penalizing either feels intrinsically wrong. It almost feels as if flagging Ricketts’s encroachment was a makeup call for annulling Bush’s first save. Vancouver manager Marc Dos Santos railed against VAR’s intrusion after the game, which his team ended up losing 2-1:
It was horrendous. The game is changing. I fell in love with another game. This game is robotic. One day there’s not going to be players on the field. I think Playstation on TV is gonna sell more than the real games.
VAR will never be perfect until the rules of the game adapt to account for its existence, but once again, a few, barely noticeable inches changed the outcome of a match. If that’s the way that leagues around the world want to go, then it’s a reality that players and fans will have to learn to deal with. It bit Vancouver in the ass in a new way on Wednesday, but these are not new issues. They’re only getting more pronounced as VAR crawls out of infancy and into a terrible adolescence.