You saw it.
The Video Assistant Referee did not.
A missed call that denied Atlanta United a penalty kick in Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Seattle at Mercedes-Benz Stadium may result in a change in the VAR booth used in MLS games. The issue for the league in reviewing plays is that the television feed is not consistently monitored. While viewers could see a clear foul, the referee did not.
During the first half of the game, Atlanta United’s Chris McCann was pulled down by the neck from behind by Seattle’s Kim Kee-hee during a corner kick. The VAR, Alex Chilowicz, reviewed the play using five camera feeds in the booth (a game feed on a big screen and four on a split-screen underneath). He didn’t think that the wrestling that typically happens on the set piece was out of the ordinary. The television, or program feed, is not in real time and not always readily available.
Chilowicz didn’t signal to referee Baldomero Toledo that he made any “clear an obvious error,” which is the threshold that must be met to recommend that the on-field referee use the replay system.
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Chilowicz didn’t see a replay from the camera angle taken from the other end of the field, which clearly showed Kim dragged down McCann.
“It’s clearly an offense by Kim,” said Howard Webb, general manager of the Professional Referee Organization and the point-person for VAR and replay for MLS.
Speaking exclusively to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Webb said: “It should have been a penalty. Baldo should have called it in the penalty area, sometimes these are missed. And we have VAR to look for these things.
“It’s disappointing these things weren’t picked up.”
Webb said there are typically 12 cameras at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The VAR has access to each of those feeds. The feed that clearly showed the foul was from behind Atlanta United’s goal, toward Seattle’s goal, and was the program feed. Webb said that feed isn’t typically monitored because it’s run by the broadcast production crew. The timing of when they show replays may not always work within the time frame that the VAR has to check plays. Their checks must be complete before play re-starts.
Webb said that he may recommend someone monitor the program feed in the review booth.
Webb said that he spoke to Chilowicz on Tuesday and that he regrets the error. Had Chilowicz chose to look at another angle, and saw the foul, he would have recommended to Toledo to review the play on the monitor behind the goal, according to Webb.
Webb said he empathized with Chilowicz for a couple of reasons. First, after looking at five monitors within a few seconds and not seeing anything that stood out, it’s understandable why he wouldn’t have asked to look at more angles. The feed is controlled by television production.
Second, calling up all 12 angles would have slowed down a game that Atlanta United’s Michael Parkhurst said already felt segmented because of Seattle’s tactics.
“It was an understandable human error,” Webb said. “We want to get things right.”
Webb’s admission won’t add two more points to Atlanta United’s season total of 41. It may placate McCann, who asked after the game why he there was no penalty after he was “manhandled” and manager Gerardo Martino, who said after the game “what worries me is not the fact that they missed it and didn’t call foul. What worries me more is if they did a check and somehow didn’t think that was a foul.”
Webb stressed that referees in MLS will become better because of what happened in Sunday’s game. There have been 1,454 checks made in 207 league matches played this season. More than 98 percent of all calls made by the refereeing crews in MLS are accurate after views, according to the league. That includes the total number of checks and reviews.
“We are looking to continually improve,” Webb said. “We have a positive impact most of the time, and when we don’t get it right, and like this one with the camera, we look to learn from the experience.”
Webb said the review of a hand ball call on Franco Escobar that resulted in a Seattle penalty kick and their lone goal was correct.
Webb said the league has looked into, and may again, the possibility of a centralized VAR headquarters with a pool of officials. The NBA recently instituted such a system to handle reviewable plays.
When MLS began the use of VAR in August, it hadn’t been ratified in the laws of the game. The league did not want to invest in such a centralized system until it was adopted as rule. Webb said a centralized system may be the way forward.