Coaches will now have video review challenge option for 2021 MASL playoffs

by Brian Ackley

LAKELAND -- Florida Tropics Coach Clay Roberts will have one additional tool to use in the team's first-ever appearance in the Major Arena Soccer League playoffs: A video review challenge to a call that may be in dispute during the course of the game.

The Tropics, by virtue of winning the MASL regular season title, have a bye from first-round playoff action this weekend that will see Tacoma matched up against San Diego, Ontario against Dallas and St. Louis against Kansas City. Florida will play the following weekend in the league semi-finals and will get to pick their opponent from the three teams remaining in postseason play. Those games will be played in Kansas City, with the league finals set the following weekend in St. Louis. 

On the eve of the first game of the 2021 Ron Newman Cup Playoffs, the MASL has announced expansion of the video review process to include coach’s challenges to assist referees in correcting clear and obvious errors, and deal with serious missed incidents. Each team will be allotted  one challenge during regulation play. Should a game go to overtime, they will receive one additional challenge, and unused challenges from regulation play will not carry over to overtime. To initiate their challenge, a coach will throw their challenge flag onto the field of play. 

To overturn a referee’s on-field call, it will take indisputable evidence and MASL Head of Officiating Ryan Cigich believes this will give referees the ability to correct errors in a fast-paced game. 

“Refereeing in our league is a ridiculously difficult job, given the pace of play and athleticism of the players.  Giving our referees the ability to take additional looks at game critical plays from different angles and in slow motion; and then having the option to correct a potential clear and obvious error is in the best interest of the fans, players, coaches, and overall league brand” said Cigich. 

Coaches must challenge during the next stoppage of play following the disputed call and the play becomes unchallengeable once play restarts. The officials’ goal will be to have plays reviewed in under 90 seconds, but Cigich has emphasized that accuracy is more important than speed. 

MASL Commissioner Joshua Schaub echoed the sentiment regarding accuracy with implementing the coach's challenges. 

“In an effort to produce fair and equitable results, the MASL has determined it’s in the best interest of the league to expand upon it’s already successful video replay systems instituted in previous playoffs," Schaub noted. "Now, after much review of other leagues using VR, we have determined giving a coaching challenge provides another opportunity to assure our refs of the greatest opportunity to correctly officiate an incredibly fast paced game.”

Plays which will be permissible to challenge include whether a blue card should be issued; whether a PK should be awarded on incidents within the penalty area; embellishing; whether a direct red card should be issued; potential fouls directly leading to a goal being scored; major rules errors; and goal / no goal calls.

If a coach has used their challenge, a referee can initiate a review if they have a strong sense that a clear and obvious error has been made and the incident has a potential major impact on the game. 

The expanded review process was tested during the final 2021 regular season game in Dallas and will be available in every venue during the playoffs.