VAR is no friend to Atlanta United

Tata Martino at the post-game press conference

Atlanta United’s last home game against the Seattle Sounders ended in a 1-1 draw leaving supporters questioning whether the expansion team can keep their home field advantage. And while Atlanta United had trouble breaking down the defense of the Seattle Sounders there were other elements, such as VAR, that were also considered.

Seattle who sat back in tight defense stopped Atlanta in their tracks, making it difficult for the five stripes to get a breakthrough. The one glimpse of hope came after a play that saw Atlanta ale smooth crosses down the field. Josef Martinez then got his head to it launching the ball in the box bringing the score 1-1.

But what was supposed to be a win for Atlanta turned out to be a match the club wasn’t expecting. Jeff Larentowicz, midfielder for Atlanta United, says the Seattle Sounders were prepared for the the atmosphere at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“We were up for the game and they were obviously up for the game as well,” Larentowicz says. “Their coach said it before the game that they are the first team to play consistently in front of big crowds and it was something they’re used to.”

The tables turned ugly when Martinez was physically handled by a player from the Seattle Sounders and Chris McCann was grabbed around the neck. To make matters worse, the Seattle Sounders first and only goal was from a penalty kick called through VAR. Atlanta United Head Coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino agreed with the call, but admitted he was concerned other calls weren’t made using VAR.

“I think that after they went to VAR they got the call correct it was a penalty. But I think there was a clear penalty against Chris McCann for a foul inside the box off a corner kick in the first half. He got grabbed around the neck.” Martino says. “I think it’s pretty visible, maybe not by the referee because he’s not in the correct spot, but if they would have checked it they would have seen the foul.”

VAR has come under scrutiny since officials began using it during soccer matches, especially international matches in 2016. VAR hasn’t been fully embraced by clubs, but found its way to the 2018 World Cup. The change was implemented by  FIFA’s Deputy Secretary General, Zvonimir Boban who stated “VAR is not changing football, it is cleaning football,” as reported by www.fifa.com.

Martino says he isn’t necessarily against the video review tool, but he has qualms with the way in which it is used during the match and cited the World Cup 2018 as a more accurate example of VAR use.

“I think what I’m seeing in the World Cup it’s not so much players delaying the game when they want them to go to VAR. I think it’s whoever is controlling VAR makes a quick decision and alerts the referee and he’ll alert the players to wait,” Martino continued. “Today, in the case with McCann, what worries me is not the fact that they missed it, but if they did a check and somehow missed that foul.”

But for others it was the means used to get the VAR that set off alarms when the Seattle Sounders, a team that no one expected to beat Atlanta United, refused to take the corner and as a result delayed the game. Larentowicz says whether it was the physicality of the first half or the ref, a VAR call seemed inevitable.

“He was on the phone a lot and it seemed like something was going to happen and it did,” Larentowicz says. “There’s a bit of a gray area. My understanding of the rule is you can either purposefully delay or the ref can force you to wait. There’s times we wanted to play quickly in the past and the ref stopped us to use VAR to assess what happened.”

And that wasn’t the first time VAR seemed to be used to turn a match. During the May 20 match against the New York Red Bulls, Atlanta United players were frustrated with VAR when what seemed like bad calls ultimately cost them the game. Brad Guzan, goalkeeper for Atlanta United, was visibly upset over the decision and says the red card against Miles Robinson was never a penalty.

“There are a lot of questions marks after today’s game, but I guess it’s up to the VAR and the ref in his ear,” Guzan says. “To send someone off and then pull them back on the field again is a bit ridiculous.”

Now as Atlanta United faces DC United on Saturday July 21, at 3:30 pm. VAR still remains controversial. Despite being used to create a fair playing field, many are beginning to wonder if certain refs are using VAR to single out teams and or players. Either way Martino insists if officials are going to use it they be quick about it.

“I think they could be a little faster with their reviews because today I got a call that my dinner was ready and unfortunately, they were still reviewing the play,” Martino says.

About the Author
Patrice Worthy is a reporter at the Atlanta Jewish Times where she covers food, art and culture, ethnic Jewry and Jews in the Diaspora.
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