September 16, 2014 — After practice today, Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni told me what he thought about using film as a coaching tool and a potential game management device.

“I use a lot of video and game tape to see what our shape looks like and explain to our guys what their shape looks like from a different perspective,” Mastroeni said. “The ability to use that has made it easy for me to show my philosophy and the way we want to play moving forward. It has been a great tool for me.”

Within the game, something like goal-line technology provides a clear solution to a Boolean problem. Did the ball completely cross the line or not? Is it a goal or not? Beyond this simple situation, video replay for officiating gets murky. Gray lines waver between decision points.

“On the field, I would love for our league to be the first league to implement all types of replay video,” Mastroeni said. “If they’re used for moments that have an impact on the game — not for yellow cards, out of bounds, corner kicks, throw-ins… I’d leave that. But every red card must be reviewed and every penalty kick must be reviewed because those are game-changing moments.”

Case in point: The Rapids’ 2-2 tie with the Timbers at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park last Saturday had two occasions worthy of scrutiny. “Last game, there were two potential penalty kicks,” Mastroeni recalled. “One, maybe… I don’t know. The second one probably was. I dunno. It probably balanced out.

“If the video and the call are right,” Mastroeni continued, “I can’t argue. If it’s validated, I can’t argue. I can only argue things that are arbitrary, and there will be arbitrary decisions within those calls. But at least you’ll have one or two pros overseeing that process, as opposed to one guy in real time, which is impossible. If coaches have one less thing to gripe about after the game, then that’s positive.”


Pablo_Mastroeni_Concentrating2_JohnBabiak (1) Photo by John Babiak

Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni during the national anthem before kickoff

Since they introduced video scrutiny in the NBA during the final moments, the flow and tempo seem constipated. NFL games are more like crime mysteries now. Viewers at home become experts with every new camera angle and replay. Play resumes many minutes later.

Would video replays slow down MLS games?

“It doesn’t matter,” Mastroeni replied. “It’s better that the call be right. Like the last-man call. Was he the last man? Today referees say, ‘I’ll give him a red card, and we’ll talk about it later.’ And that decision just killed the game. Any red card and any penalty kick I think should be reviewed.”

Mastroeni noted how long it takes to set the wall, move the players, and actually restart a restart. If the review occurs efficiently at the same time, no time is lost.

Mastroeni also said, “It would protect the referees from being accosted by the players. There’s nothing to talk about anymore.”

If players accept decisions (video, traditional, or both), then the game moves on and keeps a flow without forfeiting justice. But after talking to Pablo and continuing the conversation with Colorado Rapids media manager Rachel-on-the-spot Sweeney, Rachel had me wondering about the players’ reaction to a referee’s corrected decision. She felt that both teams would see lost credibility in the center official after a video replay changed a call. I think she’s right. Player appeals, dives, and other deceptions for the officiating staff will always be part of the game. I can imagine a pantomime of checking a video screen every time a player questions a call.

With so many high-definition replays from angles unimaginable a few years ago, we’re witnessing more Hands of God, more cannibal-snack tactics, and more foot-stamping with every missed tackle. These infractions have always been part of the game, and no system will catch everything. We’ve lived with the official blind spots of injustice and misfortune throughout the ages since our first kickoff. It will always be part of the game. No one is perfect. But maybe Pablo is right. Video replays might help the game flow even better.