USL a Potential Test Bed for Instant Replay in 2016

While speaking to reporters at the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber commented on the potential use of instant replay in USL in 2016. Those statements came in the context of using instant replay in the third-division league as a precursor to developing a system of instant replay for MLS itself.

“We are evaluating very closely testing instant replay with the USL,” Garber told Goal USA at the MLS draft. “I’ve said this for many, many years: I’m a big believer in instant replay. I believe that our officials need it.”

This is not the first time that USL has been linked to becoming a proving grounds for instant replay. It is the first time that the news was presented in front of a spotlight as bright as the SuperDraft. When Scratching the Pitch approached the USL to get answers for an inquiring public, it was learned that instant replay in the USL is not a done deal.

Nicholas Murray, USL Associate Director of Communications, conveyed, “As Commissioner Garber indicated yesterday, there have been discussions between MLS and the USL regarding the potential use of instant replay in the USL. However, there has been no final decision made at this point on its implementation for the 2016 season.”

When one ponders the use of instant replay in soccer, it is quickly realized that there are several decisions that must be reached with regard to its implementation. This is not a trivial matter, especially for the USL.

Technology and associated cost are at the forefront of issues that must be considered. The overall quality of live streaming USL matches has improved over the last few seasons, but there are inconsistencies from one team’s broadcast to the next. Few, if any, of the teams employ enough camera angles to be sufficient for instant replay to be effective.

Who would cover the cost of acquiring and operating the cameras and additional equipment necessary for instant replay? It does not seem likely individual teams would be left holding the bag, so it could be USL and/or MLS picking up the tab.

The cost might prohibit the implementation of instant replay in every stadium for every match. This raises questions of integrity. Is it fair to have some matches contested by one set rules, while other matches are competed under a different set of rules?

Other decisions must be reached about how instant replay would be used in a match. Which actions or refereeing decisions will be subject to review by instant replay? Who will be responsible for initiating an instant replay review? Will coaches be able to appeal for instant replay? Will play be stopped immediately, or will it be allowed to continue until the next stoppage in play before replay is initiated? Who will be the person to review the replay video? Will there be a time limit imposed for each review?

Getting the correct calls on the pitch is important, but so is the flow of the game. One of the attractive aspects of soccer is the nearly continuous action on the field. A poorly instituted system of instant replay risks delays that are unpalatable to some fans. It also risks changing the way referees officiate, influencing whether or not a call is made based on the safety net of replay.

Clearly, there is a lot to think about when it comes to the installation of instant replay. Hopefully, USL and MLS give the matter its due diligence. In the mean time, USL has other things about which to think, including the ownership situation in Rochester and the completion of the 2016 schedule.

UPDATE: Since the original publication of this story, StP has been contacted by a source with additional information. The information is presented with some trepidation, as it is unconfirmed.

  • The idea is to use instant replay only for scoring mistakes (goals and goal scoring situations) and identification of players in circumstances that involve potential ejections from matches.
  • Replay is currently only being planned for use in a few stadiums, but StP has been sworn to secrecy on the identities.
  • Nothing has been been definitively decided, and the league may not have time to implement any plan for the 2016 season.

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