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1st VAR ruling writes Union into MLS history book

CHESTER, Pa. — On Saturday night, the Union were written into the MLS history books.

The event occurred with 11 minutes remaining at Talen Energy Stadium when Union goalkeeper John McCarthy took a Cristian Colman cleat to a sensitive area. Although McCarthy made the initial save on the FC Dallas attempt, he was hobbled by the collision and unable to reach the rebound, which was pounded home by Max Urruti. 

It was ruled a good goal until the VAR referee contacted head referee Ricardo Salazar.

“Once they decided to go to the video review, it’s almost very NFL-like,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “It has that feel where everyone is on the edge of their seat waiting, waiting, waiting, talking, you’re asking the fourth official, he’s saying. ‘I’ve got nothing, I can’t hear anything.’”

After that brief moment of suspense, the goal was overturned by Salazar as a result of Colman’s foul on McCarthy. Although it was inconsequential in the eventual 3-1 victory for the Union, it was the first use of VAR in MLS history and first time VAR changed an on-field call. 

“The ultimate goal is to get calls right and it succeeded tonight,” Curtin said. “That’s what you want. We were lucky to be on the end of the first review ever in the league’s history and on the good side of it. I think it accomplished its goal.”

McCarthy also felt vindicated.

“I would have been pissed,” he said. “I would have been so mad, he kicked the hell out of me.”

VAR, or video assistant referee, was introduced to MLS this week after a period of testing. It involves one extra referee not at field level and two booths, loaded with monitors, on either side of the field. Implemented for the first time Saturday, the VAR referee saw the foul, called down to the field and Salazar made the change.

“It was interesting to be a part of that,” said Union forward C.J. Sapong, who had two goals on the night. “We’re all going to look back at that and say all right, that’s the first time in MLS history that a play actually got right. That’s something we want in this game and it was pretty cool to be a part of it.”

But not everyone was a fan of the new system. FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja accepted the decision but wasn’t pleased about being on the losing end.

“I have to say that it generates a lot of doubts in the system,” he said. “But we respect it. I have to be honest and say that if the referee had a chance to review it with the VAR and have time to make the decision, I have to assume that is correct. But when you go and see it, because we have the right to see it after the game, we may differ on opinions.”

Ultimately, the midseason change will be an upgrade for a league plagued by inconsistent officiating. But it’s still going to be a culture shock for traditionalists and those accustomed to human error as part of the game.

“It’s definitely different,” McCarthy said. “We joked about how it’s like American football, let me go to the booth and check this out like someone threw a challenge flag. It’s definitely a weird situation to be in but if it makes the game better and helps you out, you’re not going to argue it one bit.”