MLS asks to be FIFA's test case for instant replay

(David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)
(David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

Major League Soccer may soon become the first professional soccer league to implement some type of in-game video-review system.

Earlier this month, MLS notified FIFA of its interest in experimenting with instant replay to review disputed calls mid-match. FIFA president Sepp Blatter, once adamantly opposed the idea of instant replay, changed his stance on the issue last summer and recently reinforced his support for a replay challenge system.

Increasing controversy stemming from several questionable “dives” and referee calls during the World Cup helped fuel support for change to be made. Blatter wants to begin testing out replay systems in world domestic leagues by 2015, and MLS wants to be FIFA’s major league guinea pig.

It’s a low-risk, high-reward move for MLS, a league constantly looking for ways to generate publicity on both the domestic and international front. If a replay challenge system ends up failing, the backlash would fall on FIFA and the International Football Association, not MLS. But if successful, the MLS can advance their brand as an innovative league, and serve as a model for the future of the game’s structure.

The use of video-review would be a managerial challenge system similar to that used in the NFL and MLB. “Once the challenge is made,” Blatter said, “the referee and the coach would watch the replay on a nearby monitor, whereupon the referee would uphold or change the decision.”

Blatter did not comment on whether the game clock would stop during a challenge, but assumedly, a system like the one described indicates that the clock probably would not run while a play is under review. The loss of a true “running clock” is a main concern for soccer traditionalists opposed to video replay, but MLS commissioner Don Garber doesn’t sound too concerned with the potential effects it may have on the game.

“I would love to be able to do (video-replay) that,” Garber said, “I don’t know what (FIFA) their plans are to experiment with that, but I believe the time has come for there to be a mechanism so that games are not determined by [referee calls] that are not right.”

For MLS to actually make a rule change and introduce an instant replay system, they would need both FIFA’s support and subsequent approval from the IFA board. With Blatter’s new-founded public advocacy in favor of technological use, there doesn’t appear to be any reason as to why FIFA would oppose the idea. So the green light for MLS instant replay likely falls to the discretion of the IFA board, and how they want to go about implementing technology into the game on a global scale.

Video-review is an inevitable evolutionary step for the sport of soccer, and it wont be long until every major professional league is using some type of instant-replay system. It’s no longer a question of whether change will come, but rather, when change will begin.

As far as who it will be to lead the charge, only time will tell. But MLS has officially thrown their hat in the ring to be the first league internationally to implement replay challenges into the game.

Will FIFA and the IFA answer their call?

To be determined….pending further review.

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