There was a notable difference Sunday night as Sporting Kansas City’s and Atlanta United’s players filed onto the field before kickoff. As is customary before any sporting event, the PA announcer listed off the names of all the referees officiating the game.
But tagged onto the end was a new position – the video assistant referee.
Sitting in a room looking over Children’s Mercy Park, VAR Juan Guzman Jr. sat in front of a collection of screens, with the ability to view every single replay seconds after it happened.
The VAR is a creation collaborated between MLS and The International Football Association, the organization that oversees the rules of soccer worldwide, to aid in the decision making of head referees during competitive fixtures.
While the VAR may seem a little overpowered, it can only be used in which the head referee has made a clear and obvious error.
There are four instances in which VAR can be used: If there is an error in the awarding, or lack of, a goal, the awarding or lack thereof a penalty, if a player is undeservedly given a red card, or a clear red card was missed, and the mistaken identity of a player by the referee when handing out cards.
“I think having instant replay is tremendous, it’s great for the growth of the league,” Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said. “It was about time from FIFA to make this decision. You’ve got to get up with the today. We’ve got all this technology, and we should be using it.”
VAR was first seriously called into question in Kansas City’s 1-1 tie with Atlanta United. In the 30th minute of the game, Kansas City forward Gerso Fernandes cut inside and took a shot from the edge of the box that struck Atlanta defender Mikey Ambrose’s hand, with the ball eventually trickling through to goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
With the instant replay on the two large video boards showing a handball, thousands of people around the stadium started shouting in uproar, with members of The Cauldron chanting “V-A-R”. But referee Chris Penso refused to make the VAR motion with his hands, a large square box, and let play continue.
“I’m sure they did, they check every play,” Vermes said on the handball. “So I’m assuming they felt that wasn’t a clear and obvious type of thing.”
The general feel of the game was that of a Sunday afternoon pub league game in England, with sloppy play and brash tackles throughout the game. It was the perfect game to bring VAR into action, with Atlanta committing 20 fouls and Kansas City an additional 10.
Kansas City finally took the lead in the 58th minute, when forward Latif Blessing was brought down in the box trying to skip past Atlanta defender Leandro González Pírez. As Blessing ran past, Pírez brought up a high arm and shoved Blessing down, causing Atlanta fans to call for the VAR to disallow the penalty.
Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who replaced midfielder Cristian Lobato at halftime, dispatched the penalty coolly.
The game continued in similar fashion, with one of the best offenses in the league attempting to tie up the game against one of the league’s best defenses.
Later in the match, the answer to Atlanta’s troubles in front of goal on Sunday night came through its player labeled "The Answer."
After playing five seasons with Kansas City, Jacob Peterson earned the nickname "The Answer" due to his ability to play in multiple positions. But on the night, he was a problem for Kansas City.
Coming on as a substitute in the 68th minute, Peterson grabbed the equalizing goal in the 92nd minute of play to silence the group of supporters in The Cauldron who had just begun chanting “I believe that we will win."
Despite scoring the tying goal, Peterson refused to celebrate in front of his former club.
With little time to respond, Kansas City dropped two late points to finish the game at a 1-1 deadlock. In the draw, Sporting Kansas City extended its home unbeaten streak to 21 games.
Kansas City will return to action on Wednesday when it welcomes the San Jose Earthquakes to Children’s Mercy Park in the U.S. Open Cup. The game is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m.