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The Third Yellow: Fotis Bazakos vs VAR vs The Independent Review Panel

We go through DeJuan Jones’ questionable red card and the processes that tried and failed to overturn it.

SOCCER: APR 17 MLS - New England Revolution at Chicago Fire FC Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I want to all to know that I am a very tired individual. I work overnights and the start my shift is usually at midnight and I tend to catch-up on highlights and replays when I can. I sleep a lot during the day and under no circumstances do I want to be awoken to a Revs hashtag losing their minds over a questionable call. I especially don’t want the cause of this to be our old nemesis, Fotis Bazakos.

So naturally, twice this week, I felt a disturbance in the force. The first time was in stoppage time against the Chicago Fire when I woke up just before my alarm and saw the red card unfolding online. The second was the Independent Review Panel upholding the red card on appeal, which was denied after the Revs requested and subsequently lost one of their two reviews do to the unsuccessful attempt to overturn the call. Both of these things woke me up from some much needed rest which is why this is a little later than I would have liked, but I’m glad it is so we can include everything.

The mystery here is that this should have been an easy call to overturn on paper for the review panel. Let’s start with the initial call beginning at the 8:45 mark of the full highlight video below. Bazakos is trailing well behind the play in the center of the field as DeJuan Jones shoulders into Przemyslaw Frankowski with both players eventually going to ground inside the box.

My issue with the initial decision is two-fold and one in the same: Bazakos doesn’t appear to consult his assistant on either of the two key aspects to this call. First, the assistant would have a much better look at where the foul occurred as well as the positioning of any other defenders in the area for the DOGSO check. Bazakos instead opts to point to the spot straightaway and issue the red card. This was a very rash decision to me based on Bazakos’ distance from the play and how quickly the penalty and red card were issued with seemingly no communication with anyone else.

The main defense against DOGSO here is that Andrew Farrell is in the vicinity of the play in the center of the box and as the foul is occurring, and Farrell is moving to intercept Frankowski and help Jones. This aspect of DOGSO, the number of defenders in the area, should be enough to wipe out the red card. Everything else is there though, initially I thought Frankowski was moving towards the endline but he is definitely moving towards goal and was in clear possession of the ball in close proximity to the goal when he was fouled. I said during last week’s Revolution Recap podcast that I didn’t think Jones even deserved a yellow card for this play, but that is more in relation to how the Fire-Revs game was called overall to clarify the comments from last week. This is a textbook tactical yellow card for stopping a promising attack because Jones is a little more behind Frankowski upon closer inspection. But we’re not here to talk about Mr. Bazakos’ refereeing style or game management today, although we could and I’m sure Robert Beric would enjoy that.

Now, not seen in the the highlight videos is the following aspect of the VAR review and that it took several minutes to initiate. At this point, VAR has already mentioned to Bazakos that the foul occurred outside the box, and the correction is being made from a penalty kick to a direct free kick at the top of the box when Bazakos goes to the monitor. The main confusion here for the VAR review is that it was only thought to have checked the penalty and not the red card. This is false but only thanks to new information today as most us thought only the penalty decision was reviewed.

Neither MLS or the IRP offered a reason for why they upheld the red card for DeJuan Jones in their press release. The following video does make it clear that the VAR official for last week’s game, Malik Badawi with Mike Kampmeinert assisting according to PRO’s website, indicated to Bazakos that he did not believe DOGSO guidelines were met because of Farrell’s proximity to the play. Ultimately the call on the field stood and the game ended like two minutes later in a 2-2 draw.

So let’s get into why I’m really disappointed in this call and the overall process. It has nothing to do with the red card at the end of the day. There are decisions that I disagree with and in this case I have strong opinions on just this play but another one we’ll take a look at in a bit. We can disagree with and debate subjective calls, and DOGSO has several subjective elements that lead to an overall objective decision. It needs to be very clear and concise from all parties involved in the decision that there’s a denial of a goal scoring opportunity. While Bazakos is the center referee and has final say in the decisions, it is the entire crew that should be making the decisions.

Bazakos doesn’t seem to ask for, and later rejects, the help he’s getting from his referee crew on this play. The IRP must agree that this play should be consistently called a DOGSO by not overturning the review. If you continue watching the Inside VAR video above, it will bring you to a similar play involving the Columbus Crew, where an initial PK was overturned and a yellow card issued on review after Pedro Santos was fouled by Jacob Glesnes at the top of the box.

Now, the man talking above is Greg Barkley, PRO’s Manager of Video Review Operations, who says at the end of the Columbus review that “PRO would have preferred a red card once the penalty kick was changed to a direct free kick.” This offers some valuable insight into PRO’s standard of consistency on how they view DOGSO.

The DOGSO consideration for Columbus was a lack of clear possession by the attacker and for New England it was Andrew Farrell’s positioning. I also think it would not be wrong to include additional Union defenders in the area as well as the ball perhaps going away from goal after the header but that’s not what the focus is on here. Both times the VAR erred on the side of caution, literally and figuratively, but recommending no red card because VAR was not 100% confident that a obvious goal scoring chance would have occurred prior to the foul. I agree with both of these decisions for both reasons the VAR suggests for the corresponding play. It’s not 100% clear Columbus would retain the ball for a clear shot on goal and it’s not 100% guaranteed Chicago would have an obvious scoring chance with Andrew Farrell in the vicinity of the play.

There are a lot of problems with consistency here and Will is correct, VAR did get this wrong three times... in the Columbus game apparently. First, VAR’s offers a review for basically the same thing as in New England the VAR official comes to the same conclusion in both games, and we have two different results on the field when all is said and done. Second, after an IRP review, the punishment for the two plays is still different. Clearly PRO believes that both plays warrant red cards because they said Philadelphia Union’s Jacob Glesnes should have been issued one and DeJuan Jones still has one after the review panel upheld the call on the field. The IRP consists of one member of US Soccer, Canada Soccer, and PRO, so this makes sense that on appeal PRO could be the member voting to uphold the decision and a 3-0 consensus is needed to overturn a decision.

So if PRO has taken the extra time to review these plays, why is there no red card for Glesnes after the fact? If PRO isn’t in the business of re-refereeing games, they do need to be in the business of consistency. Everything here is the exact opposite of consistency because both VAR officials opted for no red cards, which in my opinion is correct, and it appears that PRO disagrees with the decision in Columbus but only DeJuan Jones is missing out this week.

The lack of transparency in this process is however still the most disappointing. We have the technology to hear these decisions in real time and we should have more insight into these decision than a highlight video a week after all the plays occurred. The Australian A-League does has live referee audio for their VAR decisions as well as international cricket with their DRS system and it is a fantastic addition to the game. It offers real time analysis and insight into the play on the field as decisions get made which takes away a lot of the initial confusion for calls made on the field of play. There’s no NFL referee standing in front of a camera for every flag, which is why it’s crucial to have some kind of explanation or insight for major review decisions in soccer. If the IRP isn’t going to offer explanation of their decisions and rely on PRO’s Inside Video Review videos, it’s just not enough explanation on how these decisions are reached. And the information isn’t timely enough to help teams unless they’re getting private information we don’t know about throughout the week.

I don’t know if the Revs received an explanation of the play following their review besides that the card for Jones was upheld. Glesnes committed the same offense and is available to play this week. I dislike this outcome. I disagree with Bazakos’ call last week but it seems it is not as egregious an error as I thought. I guess I have a different fundamental outlook on DOGSO plays than PRO does. If I have any doubt that any of the four requirements for DOGSO haven’t been met, I’m not giving a red card and both times that was the conclusion VAR came to as well here. Just because I can make a case for all four aspects in these two plays, doesn’t mean that case is concrete. If PRO truly believes that these fouls at the top of the box are red card worthy for DOGSO, we’re going to see a lot of games end shorthanded because I think this is a fairly common occurrence that has usually be called as it was in Columbus, as a direct free kick and a caution for a tactical foul.

While I disagree with the call on Jones, the fact that PRO thinks both of these are red card worthy and their VAR officials don’t, is a problem. No one is on the same page here except the Revolution fans and the VAR officials and I fear a wave of overly harsh DOGSO red cards in MLS this year if PRO is going to hold either of these calls as a standard for denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

Right now VAR agrees with me, we’ll see if that changes in the future.

ADDENDUM: About an hour after PRO’s Inside VAR video, they published an article with more written detail on all the video reviews that took place last weekend. THIS is what we need more of and in a more prompt manner, understanding that these reviews and appeals take place during the week and that process might delay the more public release of the knowledge and opinions.

PRO does agree that DeJuan Jones was wrongly sent off though this wasn’t overturned by the IRP but did think Pedro Santos was in possession and Glesnes should have been sent off. It still feels inconsistent overall to me but there is at least more individual guidance that we should see through out the year. The length of review clock is also helpful since I would like to see a lot of these reviews closer to two minutes than three or more.