CARSON, Calif. – The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system implemented by various leagues around the world, including Major League Soccer, is a hot topic of conversation, to put it mildly.
There are those who have advocated its use for years while others say it ruins the purity of the game. The Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic clearly is not a fan of the technology which reared its ugly head again Friday in his team’s 2-1 victory over the previously unbeaten Houston Dynamo in front of a crowd of 21,503 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
The Dynamo scored its lone goal on a controversial penalty called on the Galaxy’s Jorgen Skjelvik early in the second half, and Houston’s Alberth Ellis converted the kick in the 53rd minute to tie the score at 1-1. The Galaxy’s Diego Polenta eventually won it with the first goal of his MLS career in the 88th minute.
Ibrahimovic, asked if Polenta’s header on a corner kick from Jonathan dos Santos was poetic justice after the Houston penalty, agreed. To a point.
“Yeah, but …,” he replied. “It was because we were pushing and pushing. We cannot think like that.”
Ibrahimovic didn’t mince words about the decision of game referee Jair Marrufo, followed by that of VAR official Alex Chilowicz to not overturn Marrufo’s on-field call in which Skjelvik was ruled to have brought down Ellis just inside the penalty area.
A pool reporter later was told the VAR official who studied the play responded with “check complete,” which means the play was looked at, but there was no clear reason to overturn the penalty. There also was no need for an on-field review.
Marrufo told the same reporter the foul occurred on the penalty area line, which technically is part of the box. Thus, the penalty kick was awarded.
Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham, asked for his thoughts on the play, was careful with his response.
“Everyone has their thoughts on it,” he said. “We’ll see what the replay shows. That’s what VAR is supposed to be there for.
“It is what it is.”
A reporter then asked him, “Why have VAR when VAR can’t get it right?”
Bingham responded, “Well, you said that, not me. Don’t quote me on that. Don’t fine me anymore.”
Bingham was fined last season for his strong criticism of VAR, but former teammate Ashley Cole paid the undisclosed penalty.
Ibrahimovic, on the other hand, didn’t mind talking about an issue which clearly has been bothering him.
“We talk again about VAR?” he told reporters. “I said the last time we talked about VAR, the referee can make a mistake, but the guy upstairs watching the replays … and they showed the replay (on the big screen at the stadium) while they were looking. You can see it was outside (the box).
“I don’t want to complain too much about it, but the guy watching the VAR is drinking coffee while it’s happening or he enjoyed the game too much because it was a beautiful game.
“In the heat of the moment, you can make a mistake, and we learn from it. But he didn’t even go and watch it, the referee.
“I don’t know,” he continued. “Is it some kind of an ego thing? Like they don’t want to go against their call?”
And if he is fined for his criticism, Ibrahimovic said, so be it.
“ I don’t want to be too critical or something because maybe MLS will punish me,” he said. “But I am MLS, so don’t worry about that.”