Atlanta United’s Gonzalez Pirez critical of MLS refs, video system

Atlanta United's Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said something must change with the Video Assistant Referee system used by MLS after Wednesday's 3-2 loss at Toronto.

The game featured two goals from penalty kicks, one for Atlanta United that was the result of a review while one for Toronto wasn't, and another penalty kick that was the result of a review was missed in the final seconds. Had the penalty been made by Pity Martinez, it would have resulted in a 3-3 draw. The match was officiated by Alan Kelly. Alejandro Mariscal was the Video Assistant Referee.

“I think it’s stressful what’s going on with the referees, with VAR, with the technology that they are putting into the game,” Gonzalez Pirez told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We put in a lot of effort for every game to play 90 minutes and doing everything we can to get a tie or or get a result.

“I don’t know if they are bored or want to be protagonists in the game, but it feels like instead of resolving the problems it’s making it worse.”

Gonzalez Pirez, who spoke in Spanish for most of the interview because he said he wanted to be very clear, said the specific play that he’s referring to was the foul against Richie Laryea that led to Toronto’s third goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Kelly ruled that Flo Pogba tripped Laryea. Kelly immediately called a foul and didn’t review the play on the monitor located a few yards away. According to the Professional Referee Organization, a match official isn’t supposed to review a play unless there has been a “clear and obvious error.”

Gonzalez Pirez said he and his teammates watched a review of the play 10 times after the game and it was clear that Laryea stubbed his foot into the ground and dove. He wasn’t touched by any Atlanta United player.

“We don’t know who is making these decisions, if it’s the referee on the field,” Gonzalez Pirez said. “Everyone makes mistakes but then there are people in the VAR booth. Are they referees? What are they seeing? When you have that technology and capability you should be making better decisions. It seems that  they’re not, they are making it worse.”

Atlanta United was given a penalty by Kelly a few seconds later when a Gonzalez Pirez cross hit the arm of a Toronto player. Kelly reviewed that play before awarding the penalty, which was missed by Martinez.

“That was a very clear penalty,” Gonzalez Pirez said. “The first one was a clear penalty, too. He’s very confident in what he’s deciding against us, but not the other way around.”

Gonzalez Pirez and Kelly have a history. It was Kelly who gave Gonzalez Pirez a red card in the first half of a game at Montreal in 2017. The red card was rescinded after the standard midweek review and Gonzalez Pirez was eligible to play in the next game.

Kelly gave Gonzalez Pirez a yellow card on Wednesday for what looked to be a clean tackle in the first half.

Gonzalez Pirez said he’s neither for nor against VAR. He just wants consistency.

“If the referee makes a mistake on the field, the people in the VAR booth need to tell him that he made a mistake and be OK with reversing the call,” Gonzalez Pirez said.

“If they are going to have VAR they have to use it correctly and efficiently. Players get fined each week for simulation. We have to pay for that. When referees make a mistake there’s no penalty, no suspensions, no fines. They don’t have to answer. It should be fair for both sides.”

Previous manager Gerardo Martino expressed similar views about referees in MLS and VAR several times in 2017 and 2018.

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