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New York City FC’s loss to Pumas in Leagues Cup is proof that VAR has gone too far

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A game decided by penalties should’ve been done and dusted by full time. And technology is to blame.

FBL-NYCFC-PUMAS Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images

Before I go on this rant, I want one thing to be made clear: I have no problem with technology in football. With the innovation of the Video Assistant Referee now in referees’ lockers, certain on-field injustices and obviously fumbled calls can be easily — and rightfully — rectified leading to results that don’t end in abhorrent controversy. Overall, I think that the introduction of VAR is a net positive and has led to more good than bad in the grand scope of things when it comes to making corrections to clear and obvious errors.

Now that we’ve established that I have no gripes with VAR in and of itself, it’s time to address the situations where it’s gone way too far. More specifically, let’s talk about how it tainted last night’s Leagues Cup Quarterfinal between NYCFC and Pumas UNAM.

You see, VAR wasn’t created to analyze every small thing that occurs in a football match, but rather to identify clear and obvious errors in key moments such as a player being clearly offside before scoring a goal or another player doing some crazy shit and needing to be sent off to preserve the integrity of the game. Per the guidelines, it shouldn’t operate like the NFL’s Instant Replay system where every play is looked at for a total of 20 minutes by the request of an opposing coach.

But last night, it was quite obvious that referee Oshane Nation and his crew were ready to get the lab coats on and over-analyze everything.

About midway through the first half, Taty Castellanos received a ball over the top, held up play, then layed it off to Keaton Parks who rifled one in to seemingly give City the 1-0 lead they were deserving of. Nation, however, wanted another look. At this point, the ESPN+ feed cut out due to technical issues but we found out through Twitter that the goal had been called back due to Taty being in an offside position. Even without the replay, fair enough. I didn’t see the full uninterrupted replay so I’m in no position to challenge the correction. Still 0-0.

But in the 50th minute, fans were treated to one of the worst cases of VAR I’ve ever witnessed since its inception.

The play starts out simple — James Sands does brilliantly to dispossess a Pumas attacker and pokes at the ball to launch a transitional attack. Keaton Parks threads the needle to Taty’s feet, Taty one-times it to Maxi Moralez, and the diminutive playmaker places a gorgeous ball into space for Santi Rodriguez who’s in behind Pumas’ shaky back line.

NYCFC’s newest addition to their already stacked attack takes one long touch then chips the Pumas keeper to give the Boys in Blue a well deserved 1-0 advantage. Nobody on the field protests to the play and the supporters in Yankee Stadium — who waited through a three-hour weather delay — go ballistic. Nobody’s thinking twice about this play as everyone retreats to midfield for the restart.

But again, Nation goes to consult with the video board at the sideline. At this point, I’m thinking nothing off it. Santi is definitely not offside, and unless something unusual happened behind the play out of focus of the camera and the refs, there’s no logical reason this goal is to be disallowed. It’s just not possible.

Right? Nope! Nation blows his whistle and indicates the ball came off a hand. Taty is furious and goes into the book for dissent. I don’t blame him.

Here’s the play in question:

According to the VAR, Santi’s chip made a slight touch on his right hand before trickling into the net.

HUH!?

Obviously, this isn’t the best angle. But due to the technical issues with last night’s broadcast, I cannot find another angle that supports this handball call. But from what we’ve seen, at worst, the ball inconsequentially grazes Santi’s fingertips. It’s a terrible “correction” and should be fought with fervor by fans.

As we’ve already discussed, VAR is meant to correct clear and obvious errors. CLEAR. AND. OBVIOUS. It’s not supposed to be a tool for referees to split hairs and break every play down to the molecular level. CONCACAF/MLS’s poor international reputations aren’t helped by trash reevaluations like this.

Nobody in their heart of hearts can say calling that goal back was a fair and rational decision. This is a gross misapplication. Period. There is no counter-argument; I won’t entertain it.

People payed their hard-earned money to attend last night’s game and they waited through a literal thunderstorm for three hours just for the chance to see it. The same can be said for the people watching at home, both domestic and abroad, who payed money for a subscription service and stayed up well past midnight on a Wednesday night to see it.

It is at this point that VAR has gone too far. Its mismanagement and poor application had a direct effect on last night’s result. And it is right now that people have to put their foot down and resist it from going past the point of no return.

If the line is to be drawn anywhere, it should here and now. Enough of the overanalyzing and technicalities.