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PRO admits egregious VAR mistake from Sporting KC’s defeat against RSL

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A mistake that directly affected the playoff fate of five teams.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Sporting Kansas City William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Professional Referee Organization (PRO) has admitted an egregious error that was missed in Sunday's Decision Day match between Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake.

The incident saw SKC midfielder Roger Espinoza bearing down on goal preparing to take a shot inside the box in the 90th minute. As Espinoza aims to control the ball, RSL defender Justen Glad intervenes by slapping the ball away with his right hand, eventually rolling into the arms of RSL keeper David Ochoa. As referee Ted Unkel initially misses the call, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) fails to alert Unkel of the mistake.

PRO’s statement said the VAR was aware of the ball touching Glad’s hand, but “concluded that the non-awarding of a penalty kick did not reach the threshold of a clear and obvious error, and therefore did not recommend a Video Review to the referee.”

The statement continues, “However, the footage shows clear movement to the ball by the right hand of Glad, in a manner which can reasonably be interpreted as being consistent with a handball offense. In PRO’s judgement, a Video Review should have been recommended and a penalty kick awarded. PRO considers the decision not to recommend a review to be an error by the VAR.”

The incident had major consequences as it denied SKC a chance to score from the penalty spot in the 90th minute and move to the top of the Western Conference (which would have given them a bye and a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League). Additionally, Damir Kreilach found the winner for RSL in the fifth minute of stoppage time, ushering RSL into the playoffs as the LA Galaxy dropped out. Sporting’s loss allowed the Colorado Rapids to win the West as Seattle dropped to second and Sporting to third.

After the match, Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes kept his frustration no secret.

This comes after Tim Melia and Amadou Dia were retroactively suspended within the last two weeks by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for violent conduct and serious foul play that was also missed by VAR and went unpunished during play.

Rather than having a first-round bye, Sporting KC will open their 2021 MLS Cup Playoff journey when they host the Vancouver Whitecaps later this month.